We've had several attempts recently at holding an illegal assembly, protest march, unapproved 'ceramah' etc. The Police had dealt with them very effectively. But at what costs? While the legal action against those involved will take time to show result, many are injured( including innocent bystanders), traffic flow is seriously interrupted, shopkeepers loose some business, and most importantly, the havoc caused by police action to disband the gathering are excitedly photographed and reported by the media, inside and outside the country.
The more often we have this kind of skirmishes between the police and the protesters, the worse will our image become as a peaceful country. The Batu Buruk insident, the Yellow Wave two weeks ago and the impending gathering to be held by HINDRAF this Sunday, will continue to create the impression that the Government and the Police are really clamping down on the freedom of people to meet and express their views and grievances. No permit was given for such gatherings,'ceramah' or demonstration because the Police feared that it would cause public disturbances or clashes between opposing elements.
Such gatherings become illegal because a permit is not issued or refused to be issued. The police have their reasons for doing so. They boiled down to the need to prevent undesireable clashes between antagonistic elements, causing public disturbance and distruptions, and that protesting on the street is not the Malaysian way of showing disagreement. The argument is that there're many other ways of expressing any disagreement with government action and the public can always show their diagreement through the ballot. The Police action to not allow the gathering can be considered as preventive.
But are there really any alternative way for the public to air their grievances or disagreement with government action when such gatherings are generally disallowed, the media which carry critical views of the government can get into a lot of trouble,
websites owners and bloggers who criticise the government and political leaders can be hauled up for questioning and even
SMS communication is regulated and policed? Is preventing such gatherings, which would be legal if permitted, the best way to curb criticisms, expression of grievances, and gaining the support and confidence of the public as a whole on the government and its actions? How else can people express their views of the government and government policies and their implementation? Write letters to the govenment which will never surface or be acted upon except perhaps in a negative way?
I believe that peaceful public gatherings should be allowed. Permit can be issued subject to the condition that the organizers would be held responsiible for any irresponsible action or behavior, causing undesirable disturbance of the peace and inconvenience to the public or endangering the lives of people. The police can standby during such gathering to stop any form of undesirable action, catch those initiating it and investigate their motives. Put the responsibility of maintaining order and peace during a gathering on the organizers and go after them only if the conditions laid down for issuing the permit are violated. If these organizers are detained and harassed BEFORE the gathering how can they be charged for holding illegal gathering when the gathering has not even taken place?
If we were to say that it's better to stop an undesirable event before it occurs rather than clear the mass after it happened, then we're already prejudiced that the mass will occur, that a public gathering will certainly produce such results, that a protest movement is an undesirable thing. Such prejudice is inimical to the social philosophy that people are inherently good - the basis of democracy itself,