The Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 Charges Against 3 Individual Undermines Right to Peaceful Assembly
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) is concerned with the called for investigation and subsequent charges laid against Youth Chief of AMANAH, Hasbie Muda, International Islamic University Malaysia Student Union’s president, Aliff Naif and finally the PKR’s Youth Chief for Batu, Lestari Yahya. The charges under the Section 9(5) of the Peaceful Assembly Act laid against the 3 individuals were pertaining to the peaceful protest over rising prices held on 23rd July 2022 even though it was held peacefully and monitored by the police. Therefore, the charges laid are an assault to the right of peaceful assembly as enshrined under Article 10 of the Federal Constition. While the recent amendment in 2019 has tried to address the shortcomings of the act; the act, having been amended, are still susceptible to abuse where countless of activists including those from SUARAM were harassed by police investigations whenever a public assembly is called.
According to SUARAM’s documentation, there have been no recent charges under Section 9 Notification of assembly under the said act for the year 2020 and 2021. Yet, most assemblies happened during the pandemic era have been conducted in a civil and peaceful manner. Therefore, SUARAM questioned the necessity of these charges and given that the timing of these charges also coincide with the date of an impending general election, SUARAM does wonder whether these charges are applied for political expediency.
The charges are only possible in the first place because of the feeble amendments to the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 in the 2019 during the Pakatan Harapan regime. The act in its present form fails to address long-standing criticism from the civil society; therefore it still remains as a harassment tool subject to abuse from the state. For instance, the recent amendment has shortened the 10 days’ notice to 5 days. While this is an improvement, it does not address the fundamental issue with the 10 days’ notice and the room for spontaneous assemblies. Public rallies are often spontaneous and reacting to current events and it may be impossible or unfeasible for a 5 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, additional provisions must be made available for rallies of spontaneous nature such as the protest of rising prices recently.
The curtailment of the right to peaceful assembly in Malaysia certainly does not bode well with the fact that Malaysia remains as a member to the United Nations Human Rights Council. This is all the more concerning when the same Human Rights Council in the recent 50th session had called for the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests. It is imperative that the government should walk the talk by realizing its commitment that they are promising internationally.
Therefore, SUARAM calls on the government to retract the charges laid against Lestari Yahya, Aliff Naif and Hasbie Muda and to amend the Peaceful Assembly Act to ensure it is an act that truly facilitates assembly rather than a political tool to stifle dissent.