KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 25 ― Himpunan Hijau protesters vowed to stay overnight at Dataran Merdeka after arriving here following a 300km march from Kuantan to rally against the start-up of the Lynas rare earth plant in Pahang.
The police have, however, said they will investigate the Himpunan Hijau rally organisers under the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) 2012, for allegedly failing to give notice of their protest here against Lynas Corp’s refinery in Kuantan.
Several thousand protesters were gathered near the historic Dataran Merdeka here, some of whom marched all the way from Kuantan across 13 days.
Earlier, Dang Wangi police chief ACP Zainuddin Ahmad told the crowd that the leaders of the environmental protest had failed to inform police of the assembly, and referred to Section 9 (1) of the PAA.
He also said the organisers will be investigated under Section 9 (5) of the PAA.
Section 9 (1) states that the organiser of an assembly must give 10 days’ notice to the police, while Section 9 (5) specifies that those found to be in breach of the aforementioned clause will be liable for a fine of up to RM10,000.
Himpunan Hijau chairman Wong Tack, in his brief speech to the mostly green-shirted crowd, said that he will stay overnight within the Dataran Merdeka area.
Wong was later informed by Suhakam commissioner James Nayagam that Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) would allow Himpunan Hijau protesters to stay overnight, as long as tents were not set up.
The protestors also did not breach the barricades set up by DBKL directly outside Dataran Merdeka.
Mayor Datuk Ahmad Phesal Talib was previously reported as saying that City Hall — which administrates Dataran Merdeka — had issued a notice warning the public against rallying at the square, which is temporarily closed to enable upgrading works to be carried out.
The core group comprising hundreds of Himpunan Hijau protestors is expected to stay overnight at Dataran Merdeka, after the thousands that joined them dispersed peacefully this evening.
On April 28, the historic square saw violent clashes between the police and participants of the Bersih rally for electoral reform ― an event that also led to the government bringing legal action under the PAA 2012 against the organisers and opposition leaders.
The rally organisers were sued for damage to property amounting to RM122,000 under Section 6(2)(g) PAA, while three opposition leaders were charged with participating in a street protest, which is prohibited under Section 4(2)(c) of the same law.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had said when tabling the PAA in Parliament last year that it would be “revolutionary” and allow Malaysians to participate in public gatherings “in accordance with international norms”.
Unprecedented public anger against the Lynas plant in Kuantan has been fuelling Malaysia’s green movement that could affect voter sentiment ahead of key national polls due soon.
Himpunan Hijau is among several grassroots movements that have sprouted in the last few years that have gained traction in the run-up to the 13th general election.
The group has held several rallies in Pahang — the home state of Najib — and here, to pressure the prime minister to stop Australian miner Lynas Corp from firing up its RM2.5 billion refinery in Gebeng.
The Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) is said to be the world’s biggest rare earth plant outside of China.
About 100 containers of rare earth concentrate arrived in Kuantan this week and Lynas has said it is ready to fire up its kiln.
Lynas has been ready to begin operations since early May but faced delays due to environmental and safety disputes, which are pending in court.
Activists and Kuantan residents have challenged the government’s decision to award Lynas a temporary operating licence (TOL), which is scheduled to be heard on November 30.
They recently failed to get the court to further suspend Lynas’s TOL in their bid to permanently block the plant from operating.
Huge amounts of superheated sulphuric acid are required to separate the rare earth elements from impurities found in the ore.
The Sydney-based company has repeatedly said its plant is safe and is not comparable to a rare earth plant in Bukit Merah, Perak by a unit of Mitsubishi Chemicals in 1992, which has been blamed for causing birth defects and a high rate of leukaemia cases among workers and residents nearby.