Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) is concerned with the feeble amendments to the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 that fails to fulfil Malaysian’s right to freedom of assembly.
The Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 (PAA) was one of the often-used tools by Barisan Nasional Administration in suppressing dissent. Organisers of Bersih rallies, Blackout 505, #KitaLawan, #TangkapNajib all manage to land themselves a spot in detention centres because of PAA. Activists from SUARAM and countless other NGOs continue to be harassed by investigations under PAA whenever a public assembly is organised by NGOs.
PAA in its present form and its proposed amended form has no place in Malaysia Baru, and SUARAM rejects the current amendment in totality as it fails to address long-standing criticism against PAA and will only create new tools for harassment by the state.
1. The requirement for 7 days’ notice
Under the proposed amendments, the original 10 days’ notice will be shortened to 7 days. While this is an improvement, it does not address the fundamental issue with the 10 days’ notice. Public rallies are often spontaneous and reacting to current events and it may be impossible or unfeasible for a 7 days’ notice.
A notice period is acceptable for pre-planned rallies and gatherings as organisers would have ample time to coordinate themselves and liaise with the police. However, as Minister Datuk Seri Mujahid Rawa recently experienced, a spontaneous rally can take place and the PAA should not obstruct such rallies.
Additional provisions must be made available for rallies of spontaneous nature (i.e. solidarity gathering, vigils, protests on current issues, etc)..
2. The ‘compound’ system
The compound system is another flawed idea that would leave more room for repression. The reduction of criminal prosecution to a compound is certainly the right way forward. However, the amendment comes with two notable caveats that render the whole exercise redundant.
For a compound to be issued, the district police chief must obtain written consent by the public prosecutor before issuing a compound. If a person fails to settle the compound within the time limit, the prosecution can take place at any time against the offender. This merely adds layer to the current law where a person would have to pay a compound or face prosecution.
Fundamentally, PAA cannot be a law merely to impose restriction and conditions upon organizers of rallies. Organizers that have fully complied with PAA should not be facing potential compounds and prosecution but given necessary support and assistance by the state to facilitate a peaceful assembly. Any terms imposed upon organizers must be reciprocated by the state (i.e.. ensuring that public bodies such as DBKL would provide the necessary approvals upon any application, ensuring that the police provide the necessary security and traffic assistance to organizers, etc.).
With this absurd amendment, the Ministry of Home Affairs has yet again, shown Malaysians how detached it is from the reality on the ground and continue to fail the reforms promised by the Pakatan Harapan administration.. If the Minister of Home Affair is unable or unwilling to fulfil the reforms promised by Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto, it is time for the Minister to step down.
SUARAM also calls on the Members of Parliament from all parties to ensure that any amendment to PAA will empower Malaysians in exercising their rights under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution and not continue to heckle and stifle freedom of assembly.