Monday, September 7, 2009

What 's an Illegal Assembly?

We've been hearing too many cases of the police breaking up illegal gatherings or assemblies, acting under the Police Act 1967, Section 27.The A.G, TS Ghani Patil said that the Section 23 cow-head protestors would be charged under Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act or Section 298 of the Penal Code, and also under the Police Act ( NST, Teus, Spt.8).

But what really is an illegal assembly? It's a gathering or an assembly for which a licennce has not been issued by the Police under Section 27 (1), (2) and (2A). What amused me is that the licence must be applied for by an organization ( also an approved one) or by three people, fulfilling all the conditions required.

The emphasis is on application by an organization or three people. So what happens when a group of friends meet by chance or after a very informal dicussion. No set agenda, no formal arrangement of any sort, no real objective but just to meet and talk at a street corner, a park, a restaurant, a Mama stall etc. More friends join in and you've a group of more than three, Will that be an illegal assembly?

What about a political leader visiting some place and a group of supporters start converging on him. Before you know it you've some 20-39 people gathered around him. He talks to them but for ease of hearing somebody hands him a mike. Has an illegal assembly be formed? If so many government party leaders can be held for holding such illegal assemblies.

How can you apply for a licence if an assembly is formed without any formal agenda, not organized by any approved organization or three people who're members of an organization (as required by the Police Act 1967 Sect. 27(2A)? A coincidental gatherings, one that's not organized, preplanned or arranged for a specific purpose certainly cannot be preceded by a formal request for a licence, and ipso facto, be conseidered illegal because there is no license issued on its behalf.

Oh yes, a Police Officer under the Act can stop a gathering if he feels that its going to cause some public disturbances. But what's there to stop him from telling a spontaneous or unplanned group to disperse, although the group was not causing any diturbances - until the police stepped in to disperse the group.

I think we've to redefine what an illegal assembly is. Otherwise for or five friends ( maybe more) having a fine time shouting at each other in jest, or just frolicking an revelling can be charged for illegal assembly if they don't remain under the confine of a
cafe or restaurant. We surely don't need a licence to meet among friends, discuss our problems and show our pleasure or displeasure. If others join in without invitation and the group swells unexpectedly, how the hell can you make an arrangement to get a licence? An assembly not arranged and organized by an approved organization or three people as stipulated under the Police Act, being thus disqualified from applying for a licence, cannot therefore be considered illegal, It can only be stopped and dispersed by the police if it causes some inconvenience to the public and a complaint is made to the police.

Question is: can the police act without such a complaint from the public and, therefore, acting only on its own suspicion? Maybe the legal experts in the country can answer that.

PS. Even charging the protestors under Section 298 of the Pebal Code for uttering words "with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person" by stepping on the cows head, requires prove of the intent while the cow's head might not be designed to hurt the feelings of the Hindus but to insult the Selangor MB who was alleged to have used State-owned GLC's money to buy 46 cows for the last hariraya korban. The Malay protestors anger at the meeting with Section 23 residents was clearly directed at the MB, not at any Indian.

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