By Charles Santiago
Sometimes even an education in a prestigious institution goes to absolute waste.
While I expect Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin to toe the government line, his statement asking the police to prevent people from marching to Dataran Merdeka at the Bersih 5 rally trashes his image to an all-time low.
We have also seen other Cabinet members condemning the rally as undemocratic.
In reality, it’s calls by leaders, such as Umno Youth chief Khairy, that go against the very grain of a functioning democracy that allow for freedom of assembly, expression and speech.
The right to peaceful assembly cannot be interfered with merely because there is disagreement with the views of the protesters or because it is likely to be inconvenient and cause a nuisance or there might be tension and heated exchanges between opposing groups.
In fact, Khairy’s allegation of violence at the Bersih 3 rally before had many interpretations, one of which was a lingering suspicion that saboteurs not associated with the rally organisers were responsible.
So using an excuse, which in itself is murky, to prevent people from exercising their democratic right is immature.
If Khairy is afraid of any possible violence brought about by any group of people, then his concerns can be easily taken care of. There is a positive obligation on the part of the State to take reasonable steps to facilitate the right to freedom of assembly, and to protect participants in peaceful demonstrations from disruption by others.
So, instead of resorting to preventing the rally, obstructing people from marching or using violence against the protesters, the police can facilitate the protest.
But that which makes me wonder is Khairy’s endorsement of the Red Shirts, when he said Umno Youth members can join them as long as they don’t resort to violence.
It’s amazing that Khairy isn’t aware of the Red Shirts leader Jamal Yunos starting fights with the Bersih members during their convoy or threatening them with another possibility of a racial riot, such as the May 13 incident, if Bersih 5 takes place.
Unless, of course, Khairy’s real reason to prevent the Bersih 5 rally is fear – fear of the people’s power, fear that Malaysia’s image will face a further setback.
If that’s the reason, then Khairy has certainly lost the plot.
Charles Santiago is Member of Parliament for Klang.
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