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Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) welcomes the Home Ministry’s openness to receiving proposals for ‘streamlin(ing) procedures in handling applications for assembly permits’.   

Much-needed improvements to police procedures regarding public assemblies are long overdue. A critical gap exists in the inconsistent conditions imposed when organisers notify the police about public assemblies, exemplified by the formal letter 'required' for the Women's March, duplicating information already submitted in the notification form. Organisers of peaceful assemblies at public spaces like Dataran Merdeka also face the unnecessary requirement of obtaining consent from City Hall, a bureaucratic barrier that is also unfounded when the City Hall is neither the owner nor the occupier of the public space. Furthermore, post-assembly investigations against organisers, especially those who have already notified the police about the public assembly, still persist. Whilst wasting police resources, this tactic of intimidation also disincentivises the Rakyat from legitimately exercising their right to express themselves collectively and on a wider level, political participation. These gaps need to be addressed in the procedural amendments.

Nevertheless, procedural changes alone may not suffice, unless accompanied by a thorough reform in the root of the issue – the police’s approach to managing public assemblies. Despite amendments to Section 27 of the Police Act 1967 11 years ago and the Inspector-General of Police’s clarifications just two days ago, vestiges of the ‘no permit, illegal assembly’ mindset persist. This is evident in the continued use of ‘permit’ from time to time by police spokespersons, and just yesterday (4 March 2024), the Home Minister. Unwarranted arbitration by police officers on public assemblies is still disappointingly seen, specifically via ‘advice’ to organisers to not hold public assemblies in pre-assembly facilitation meetings. The primary purpose of the notification and pre-assembly meeting should be to enable the police to facilitate public assemblies – and not to gatekeep who can and cannot exercise the constitutional right to peaceful assembly. On that note, making both mechanisms accessible online streamlines the process for both organisers and the police in organising and facilitating the public assembly respectively. Additionally, we reiterate our recommendation from 25 February 2024 following the arrest and detention of activist Harmit Singh in GegarAmerika – to fully sensitise all police officers to their role and best practices in facilitating public assemblies - given the ongoing gap in understanding among police officers of corresponding procedures.

SUARAM hopes to directly engage with the Home Ministry on the existing procedures for public assemblies. We also urge the Ministry to organise consultations with civil society to gather input on their experiences and suggestions for improving these procedures.

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