Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Don’t appeal court ruling, Bersih tells Putrajaya

Members of the police force guard the front gate of the Bersih 2.0 headquarters during the raid of the secretariat in PJ last year.

Bersih 2.0 has urged Putrajaya not to appeal today’s court ruling on its legal status and instead return all the materials it confiscated last year when the group was declared unlawful.

The 84-member electoral reforms group also asked that the government withdraw all civil suits against it in court, saying it was a waste of public funds.

“We recognise that the government has a right to appeal today’s decision but for the sake of our country, we sincerely ask them not to pursue with an appeal and to drop all the civil suits against us.

“Instead, we hope that the government will take cognisance of the political realities in our country and deal with Bersih 2.0 as a legitimate representative of the interests and demands of the people for free and fair elections,” the group said in a statement from its steering committee members here.

The Kuala Lumpur High Court decided today to quash Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein’s order last year and declare Bersih 2.0, a coalition of over 84 non-governmental organisations, a legal entity.

In her ruling, High Court judge Datuk Rohana Yusof had said the coalition of civil societies known as Bersih 2.0, though not officially registered, can be considered a society under the Societies Act.

“The minister’s order is quashed because Bersih is a lawful society,” Justice Rohana said.

Prominent lawyer and former Malaysian Bar president Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan and 13 of her colleagues in Bersih’s steering committee had in July last year filed a judicial review seeking to get the Barisan Nasional (BN) government to lift its July 1, 2011 ban against the movement.

Hishammuddin had declared the movement unlawful, citing Section 5 of the Societies Act 1966 as investigations had shown that Bersih 2.0 was not a registered organisation and that it was creating unease among the people.

A widespread crackdown on its members and supporters ensued, resulting in the arrest of a whopping 1,600 people during and after the July 9 rally in the city.

Ten days before the rally, police officers had raided the Bersih 2.0 secretariat in Petaling Jaya, carting away with the group’s materials for the event.

“The authorities should now return Bersih 2.0’s assets and materials seized... ranging from computers, video cameras, yellow T-shirts, posters, placards, pictures and a members’ list,” the polls watchdog said today.

Bersih 2.0 held another rally on April 28 this year, coining it “Bersih 3.0”, and is currently being sued by the Kuala Lumpur City Hall for some RM351,000 in damages.

The government’s statement of claim lists 15 vehicles, mostly belonging to the police, that had to be repaired at a cost of RM122,000.

The government also wants general damages, interest and a declaration that Bersih breached Section 6(2)(g) of the newly-passed Peaceful Assembly Act 2011.

Ambiga has countersued the government for allegedly violating her constitutional rights over the April 28 rally, saying the Najib administration had abused its power by ordering the police and DBKL to block the event from taking place at Dataran Merdeka.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had said when tabling the new Act in Parliament last year that it would be “revolutionary” and allow Malaysians to participate in public gatherings “in accordance with international norms.”

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