Speedy Tabling of Freedom of Assembly Bill: Bad Faith on Government!

Press Statement: 22 November 2011

SUARAM views with disgust the Peaceful Assembly Bill tabled at Parliament today. The existing conditions for freedom of assembly are already poor but the proposed Bill worsens conditions for those who wish to exercise this constitutional right. The right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

The Bill was tabled in an atmosphere of almost complete secrecy. The text of the proposed legislatives changes was not available for public viewing, thus eliminating any possible input from civil society groups.

The proposed Bill imposes multiple restrictions on all Malaysians from holding a peaceful assembly and gives arbitrary powers to the police and the Home Minister to restrict and control the conditions of any assembly.

SUARAM’s initial main concerns of the Bill:

The Bill is discriminatory and restrictive in nature as Section 4 prohibits
Any street protests – is prohibited, as it is a form of assembly in motion, or procession that is already legally recognised in section 27 of the Police Act 1967.
non-citizens from participating in a peaceful assembly;
children from participating in a peaceful assembly, which violates the government’s obligation to guarantee children the right to freedom of assembly as stated in Article 15 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC);
non-citizens and adults under the age of 21 from organising a peaceful assembly; and
Section 15 of the Bill legitimises wide and arbitrary powers to the police to restrict the right to freedom of assembly.
The Bill gives wide powers to the Home Ministers to amend the 1st Schedule on the prohibited places for assembly.
The requirement for notification of the rally of 30 days in advance is too long. The requirements are also too tedious, reducing the constitutional right to a bureaucratic process.

We are concerned about the repercussion of these proposed legislative changes on the work of Malaysian NGOs, Civil Societies, political parties and Citizens which would come under even more intense government scrutiny. The new proposed legislation while recognising the need for peaceful assembly merely acts to further limit this fundamental right.

SUARAM hereby urges 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.

SUARAM opposes the Bill and urge the government to withdraw the Bill immediately or organise an open consultation with civil society to review the objectives and provisions of this Bill. We also urge the government to remove restrictions under the Section 27A of Police Act and Penal Code and establish an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) as per the recommendations made by the 2005 Royal Commission on Policing without further delay.

Released by,

Program Manager