Suhakam: Police can’t stop Mahathir-Nazri debate

By Syed Jaymal Zahiid
Lok (second from left) said the right to free speech included the freedom to organise a public debate, and that the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) allows for this. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, April 4 — There are no laws that prevent a debate from taking place, the National Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) said today.

Commissioner Datuk Mah Weng Kwai said the right to free speech included the freedom to organise a public debate, and that the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) allows for this.

“As far as debates are concerned there are no rules to say you cannot prevent a debate,” he told reporters at the sideline of Suhakam's annual report release event here.

"Previously for any assembly —a lawful assembly, of course — you need to have a police permit. That has been repealed and replaced with the PAA so all it requires under Section 9 (5) is to give a notice as to when and where about the debate.

“But you do not need to seek police permission for a debate,” he added.

Mah was responding to the police ban on a proposed dialogue between federal minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz and former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said his men had the power to stop the debate if they deemed the event could pose a security threat, citing Section 3(3) and 20(3) of the Police Act 1967.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said today his agency was empowered to stop the event if is deemed to be a security threat, citing Section 3(3) and 20(3) of the Police Act 1967.

But Mah argued that the PAA takes precedence over the Police Act.

“That Act should prevail,” he said.

Previously, under Section 27 of the Police Act, the organiser of an assembly must first obtain a permit from the Officer in Charge of a Police District (OCPD) before holding an assembly.

If an assembly is held without a permit, then the assembly is deemed to be an unlawful assembly and anyone who attends or participates in the assembly would commit an offence.

Section 27 of the Police Act has been repealed and replaced with the PAA. Under the PAA, there is no longer a requirement to obtain a permit, while Section 9(1) of the PAA states that the organisers only needed to notify the police ten days prior to holding a rally.

The “dialogue” between Tourism and Culture Minister Nazri and the former prime minister had been scheduled for April 7.

Police had initially approved of the event, before withdrawing this yesterday, citing security concerns after 18 police reports were lodged.

Police similarly prohibited an earlier debate between the two in Perak, which the now-cancelled dialogue in Shah Alam was meant to replace.

Both decisions led to allegations that the police were infringing on the civil liberties of both politicians.

* The report previously attributed the comments to Datuk Lok Yim Pheng. It has been corrected to identify Datuk Mah Weng Kwai as the speaker.