Anger Grows Over Assembly Bill

A proposed law purportedly allowing greater freedom has many Malaysians up in arms, claiming it actually places more restrictions on the right to assemble and outlaws protests.

“There seems to be more control. What is most disturbing is that greater power is given to the police,” said Father Fabian Dicom of Penang diocese.

The Peaceful Assembly Bill 2011, tabled in parliament on November 22, bans street protests outright.

On the right to gather for rallies, the bill states 30 days advance notice must be given to authorities. Failure to give notice can result in a fine of 10,000 ringgit (US$3,140).

Under the current law, a police permit is required if four or more people gather for a rally.

However, under the new proposals, the police can still object to a planned rally and can impose various restrictions for what they can claim as security reasons. Additionally, individuals under 21 cannot organize rallies or assemblies, and children under 15 cannot take part in them.

“What a disappointment. These conditions imposed are onerous. Even religious assemblies are not exempt,” said Joy Appukuttan, president of the Catholic Lawyers Society.

“The new bill purports to regulate public assemblies. This is not in accordance with Article 10 of the federal constitution that grants the right to freedom of assembly. The bill is an attempt to restrict the constitutional rights of the people,” he said.

Influential former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad told local media yesterday the bill had “good intentions” and would safeguard the rights of people who were not demonstrating. It would ensure public assemblies would be free of violence or disruption.

Human rights activists and opposition politicians have demanded the bill be withdrawn.

Father Fabian said he believes the measures the proposed law sets out are completely unnecessary.

“The police in Malaysia are loyal to the powers that be and have a bad track record [in regard to people’s] right to dissent, demonstrate and protest. Peaceful street protests have been held without problems and they are important.”

National Human Rights Society president Malik Imtiaz Sarwar called the bill more repressive than current laws and inconsistent with the prime minister’s promise of democratization.

Ruling party lawmakers, however, defended the bill, saying unbridled civil rights is a recipe for disaster.

The bill is a result of a promise made by Prime Minister Najib Razak on September 15 to give Malaysians more freedom.

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