The fracas caused by the ever over-reacting Polis di Raja Malaysia during the candle light vigil at Amcorp Mall last weekend brings to light, not only the people's fundamental right to assemble - a right which is guaranteed by article 10 of the Federal Constitution - but also the complete misunderstanding of the purposes and functions of permits and licenses by the authorities.
I have said it before and I will say it again. And this time, let me type this real slowly, just in case the authorities could not read fast enough. The purpose of permits and licenses is not to prohibit but to regulate. Get it? Not to prohibit. But to regulate.
There are some businesses, for example, which, if left unregulated, might affect public order. Take the serving of alcohol. If not regulated, people would be serving alcohol at a stall in front of my gate. Drunk people might then make so much noises in front of my house in the wee hours of the morning. They might even puke on my car! Because of that, the authorities require licenses to be obtained by those who would like to serve alcohol as a business. Thus, the business of serving alcohol could be regulated. For example, they must be done in an enclosed shop. The shop must close at 1 am. Whatever.
In Amsterdam, marijuana or weeds - or grass as it is also well known for - is legal. But the business of selling and serving weeds in that city is regulated. They can only sell and be smoked in an enclosed shop. Only people above the age of 18 can buy, sell and smoke it. As such, you don't see peddlers at some back street in Amsterdam harassing people to buy weeds. Neither do you see stone-faced weeds-smelling larger louts puking in the drain and jumping into the river at 2am in Amsterdam.
In Singapore, prostitution is regulated. The leisure women go for regular medical check-ups and carry a yellow card (or is it green, I am not too sure). And they can only ply their trade in a certain area of Singapore. That regulates the oldest profession in Singapore.
I am not, of course, advocating the legalisation of weeds or prostitution in Malaysia. I have to say this. Because otherwise people like Zulkifli Nordin would say I am a bad Muslim. I am just pointing out the role, purpose and function of permits and/or licenses. To add to it all, the authorities could also collect fees from the issuance of the permits and licenses.
Another business which is regulated is money lending. It is a fact that people borrow money. And there are also people who lend money. On purely unjust and unfair terms, that is. You borrow money, give them your land title, and if you fart more than 3 times, they would take your land and sell it! That kind of terms. But the authorities now require money lenders to obtain license. And so the business of money lending is regulated. Interest rate is regulated. Methods of recovery is regulated.
The problem is this. In Malaysia, however, permits and licenses are not issued even if the applicants qualify for the permits or licenses. If you don't trust me, try to get a money lending license. You can't get one. Even if you satisfy all the requirements. So over here, permits and licenses are not tools of regulations but rather they are used to prohibit people from doing the business.
The result is the people who could have been lawful money-lender now become Ah Long. They would charge 50% interest. Pain your gate red if you don't pay. Spray rabbit's blood on your windscreen if you don't pay after the red pain on your gate. Then they would shyte in front of your gate before shooting the bejeezus out of your brain with a silver bullet! That's what happen when permits and licenses are used as a prohibitory tool rather than as a regulatory tool. The people who fail to get permits and licenses would go underground.
Prostitution here goes underground. It is controlled by triads and heavenly gods! The business churns millions everyday. It is wholly unregulated. I have heard reports from NGOs of 12-13 year old girls being involved in prostitution in Chow Kitt! I don't know whether the authorities know about this and if so, what they are doing about it.
Gambling is big business in Malaysia. And not only at Genting, mind you. EPL bets go to the tune of millions every weekend. They have odds published via text messages. Manchester United versus Arsenal? How about half goal to Arsenal with a draw at half time without a goal and a full time score of 2-1 to Manchester United. Rooney will score first. Three yellow cards. No red. The referee will not get a cramp. And Wenger will lose a tooth. They bet on anything. And it is all unregulated!
So. What have all these to do with the fracas last weekend? Simple. The law provides that anybody who wants to assemble a group of more than 3 people in Malaysia, must obtain a permit. Stop here. Can you imagine? Every assembly of 3 or more people in Malaysia without a permit is in law an illegal assembly? Can you all imagine that? I mean, 3 people shyting in a KLCC toilet could, on the face of it, be arrested for an illegal assembly? Amazing!
Anyway. I was saying, every assembly must have a police permit. Otherwise it is an illegal assembly. Sounds simple? Yea...rite! Try obtaining the permit. And especially when you are wearing a free RPK black t-shirt or Repeal ISA red t-shirt, you can forget about obtaining the permit. Regardless of the fact that all you want to do is to gather, sing some songs, read some poems and burn some candles. No. You just can't get a permit.
The police chief said that they have asked the organisers to obtain a permit. Since they didn't, the vigil was illegal. That was why they had to jump on them, with baton and all, arrested them and detained them till 3am.
When permits and licenses are used as a prohibitory tool, that is what's going to happen. People will assemble illegally. Take the Bersih and Hindraf rally last year. It was so simple for the police - who I am sure only has public order in their mind - to control the planned rally. Issue a permit. Impose a condition or conditions. Tell the organisers you all can only assemble at Dataran Merdeka. You can't move. You can have one big speaker. Can make noise but cannot exceed 150dB. You can bring banner but cannot be as big as the Malaysian flag on the biggest flag pole in Asia. And you all must wear an orange shirt with green pants. Women cannot wear pants. Things like that. Than the police can control the assembly.
But no. They didn't issue a permit. The people assembled anyway. And so water cannons were used. Batons were used. Malaysia became instantly famous. CNN. BBC. Al-Jazeera. What more with the Mydin guy crucifying the English language on international TV. Great!
What is so difficult about giving permits and imposing reasonable conditions to maintain public order? Why must permits and licenses be used to curtail a fundamental liberty instead of to regulate and ensure a peaceful exercise of it? I really don't know.
And the thing is, the exercise of the arresting power for the so-called illegal assemblies is not even consistent. Why, for example, the police did not jump on Zulkifli Nordin and his band of Islamist yahoos when they were kicking up quite a ruckus at the Bar Council building during the conversion forum? Why were they not baton-ed or arrested? And what about the long march to the American Embassy by Khairy Jamaluddin last year? If the peace loving Malaysians carrying candle must be so forcefully treated in order to maintain public order, why were the yahoos who were shouting, screaming and acting in a very threatening manner not so arrested?
Sorry. I am just a simple minded person. Perhaps there are some reasons for the different treatment meted out to different people at a different time. Perhaps.