The Government Must uphold Fundamental Liberties and Rights

Press Statement: 21 November 2011

Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) is concerned with the rushing of the Freedom of Assembly Bill that has raised the fundamental question on the objective of this Bill.

SUARAM regrets the lack of consultation and review with civil society groups over the exercise of the right to assemble and the interest of the State to maintain public order.

SUARAM calls for the immediate revelation of the bill. To date the Bill is still not available to the public. We fear that the Bill with new requirements and controls due to the hap hazard tabling and the secrecy over the contents of the Bill will carry provisions that restrict and regulate this fundamental freedom.

SUARAM will oppose this Bill if it is contravenes the Article 10 (1) of the Federal Constitution and the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Any attempt to dilute and prescribe any form of restriction would only embarrass the Prime Minister of Malaysia, who in his public address on 15 September 2011 had expressed his commitments to respect and abide by international human rights standards.

SUARAM hereby urge the government to adopt the recommendations made by SUHAKAM in its 2001 special report on ‘Freedom of Assembly’ to the Parliament. In the report, SUHAKAM proposed several noteworthy recommendations based on the findings and best practices in other countries and through various discussions with the police and other interested parties. Among others, the recommendations in the 2001 Report are:

i) The replacement of the requirement to apply for a permit (under Section 27 of the PA 1967) with a procedure which merely requires the convener of an assembly or procession to notify the police of any intended assembly;

ii) The need to review and revamp the existing methods of crowd dispersal by the police;

iii) The need to review the procedure for the maintenance of law and order at assemblies and processions;

iv) The need to give official recognition to SUHAKAM, Bar Council and recognised NGOs as observers at assemblies and processions; and

SUHAKAM, in the conclusion to the 2001 Report, states that peaceful assemblies are a healthy way for members of civil society to express dissatisfaction over matters that affect their lives and is of the view that peaceful assemblies do not disrupt peace and stability of the nation. SUHAKAM further adds that “peaceful assemblies” do not necessarily mean “silent assemblies”. It merely refers to the absence of violence and therefore speeches and cheering at public assemblies are permissible and do not render the assemblies “not peaceful”.

We also urge the government to implement the IPCMC and remove restrictions under the Section 27A of Police Act and Penal Code as per the recommendations made by the 2005 Royal Commission on Policing.

SUARAM recommends a Select Committee to review the objectives and provisions of the Bill upon the 1st tabling of the Bill.

Released by,

Program Manager