By Hafiz Yatim | Malaysiakini

The arrest and detention of five lawyers and an activist during a Human Rights Day Walk six years ago has been ruled as “unlawful”.

In the Kuala Lumpur High Court today, Justice John Louis O’Hara awarded general damages of RM10,000 to each and ordered the government to pay costs of RM60,000.

The lawyers are Sivarasa Rasiah, Latheefa Koya, N. Surendran, Amer Hamzah Arshad, and Eric Paulsen, while the activist is Johny Andu @ Abu Bakar Adnan.

“The arresting officer and Dang Wangi deputy OCPD Che Hamzah Che Ismail gave conflicting, contradictory, and confusing instructions before the arrest order was issued,” said the judge.

“While in detention, they were also not allowed to consult a legal representative.”

The court also allowed special damages of RM5,454 to Poulsen for flying in from South Africa to attend the criminal trial.

O’Hara however, did not grant the plaintiffs’ claim to malicious prosecution.

The six had in their 2010 suit named Che Hamzah, who was also the acting Dang Wangi OCPD and the ground commander that day, the Inspector General of Police, the Home Ministry, and the government as defendants.

All six were represented by Edmund Bon and senior federal counsel Nadia Hanim Tajuddin.

The six were represented by lawyer Edmund Bon while senior federal counsel Nadia Hanim Tajuddin appeared for the police and government.

Stopped halfway

Some 100 people participated in the Human Rights Walk held on Dec 9, 2007, from the Sogo departmental store in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman up to the Bar Council premises in Jalan Lebuh Pasar, when they were stopped halfway by the police.

This gathering was several weeks after the Hindu Rights Action Force protest.

The six were also charged by Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail under section 27 of the Police Act and sections 143 and 145 of the Penal Code for participation in an illegal rally and disobeying police orders.

However, they were later acquitted by Sessions Judge SM Komathy Suppiah in 2009 when she ruled that the prosecution had failed to prove its case.

The prosecution did not appeal their acquittal.

Surendran said this was a victory for the freedom of the right to assemble which is under threat in Malaysia.

“This is also a historic end to the tyranny of the Police Act which has been replaced with the Peaceful Assembly Act.

“This also serves as an indictment of the conduct of the police force under the present government. From the beginning, we said we were unlawfully arrested and were also not granted access to lawyers.

“These were also politically motivated arrests carried out on the instructions of the BN government,” he alleged.

Push for reforms

Surendran added at that time, it was trying to stifle dissent, shut down the opposition, activists, and non-governmental organisations which were pushing for reforms in the country.

He claimed the order to arrest came from a very high level, as the commander was a high-ranking officer.

“This serves as an indictment on the government, the Inspector General of Police, and the Home Minister,” Surendran said, adding that this was a vindication of a public right.

He hoped there would be some positive response from the government following today’s verdict.

Paulsen said the judge has given a strong rebuke to the police, particularly on violating the rights of the rakyat to assemble and march peacefully.

“I hope the government especially the new Home Minister will take some lessons from this. There were less than 100 activists in the march but there were 500 policemen,” he said.

“This is total abuse of the police force which would have been of better use in crime prevention or in apprehending real criminals. This was just a peaceful walk,” he said, adding the police were continuously being misused for such purposes.

Johny, the non-lawyer among them, said this would serve as a lesson for others to stand up for their rights.