Bersih 4's yellow T-shirt does not come within the definition of "publication" in the Printing Presses and Publications Act, and rally goers would not flout the law wearing it, a retired Federal Court judge said.
Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, however, said participants could flout the law for carrying rally materials like placards or pamphlets with Bersih 4 printed on them.
"Publication must be either in the form of print or electronic media in permanent or temporary form," he told The Malaysian Insider.
He was responding to Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi's announcement banning the use of yellow with the words "Bersih 4" in whatever form ahead of the rally in Kuala Lumpur, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu today.
A government gazette signed by Zahid on Thursday which came into effect yesterday states that the order was made under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.
The Printing Presses and Publications (Control of Undesirable Publications) (No. 22) Order 2015 lists as "absolutely prohibited throughout Malaysia" the following items: any yellow coloured clothing and which contains the words "Bersih 4", and any other printed material and pamphlet which leads to Bersih 4 rally.
A copy of the order is available online.
It states that the "printing, importation, production, reproduction, publishing, sale, issue, circulation, distribution, or possession" of these items are "likely prejudicial to public order", as well as to security and national interest.
Sri Ram said the legislation was a penal statute and must be read restrictively.
"Section 7 (1) of the PPPA does not empower the minister to prevent a person from wearing such a T-shirt," he said, adding that the order was unreasonable and unauthorised.
He said wearing a yellow Bersih T-shirt could be an offence in other legislations but not under the PPPA.
Sri Ram said those adversely affected could apply to quash the order and that the enforcement authorities who arrested participants could also be liable.
"If the order was quashed, any unlawful arrest will result in the litigants getting constitutional compensation," he added.
The rally organiser, electoral reform group Bersih 2.0, this week sold at least 35,000 rally T-shirts and received RM2 million in public donations – a response it described as overwhelming and unprecedented.
The rally's demands this time are for institutional reform, the right to protest, a corruption-free and clean government and political system, and measures to save the economy.
This is the fourth Bersih rally since the first in 2007, and is held as Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is under pressure to account for an alleged financial scandal involving Finance Ministry-owned 1Malaysia Development Bhd, as well as a RM2.6 billion political donation that went into his personal bank accounts.
Participants of the rally in Kuala Lumpur are planning to meet at five locations across the city before converging on the streets around Dataran Merdeka, where they plan to stage an overnight camp-out.
Similar gatherings will be held in Kuching and Kota Kinabalu.
Police have declared the rally illegal, but lawyers say there is no law to stop people from gathering peacefully. – August 29, 2015.