KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 22 – Bersih 2.0 chief Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan slammed today the proposed new law on peaceful assembly for giving greater powers to the home minister and the police to curb dissent and undermine the Federal Constitution.
In a statement today, the prominent lawyer accused the government of failing to keep up with international standards and creating instead the illusion that Malaysians now have greater freedom as provided by the country’s supreme law.
“This Bill restricts our rights as much as possible. It gives unfettered powers to the minister and the police to further restrict the freedom to assemble. It impinges on free speech. In short, it will stymie legitimate dissent in ourcountry,” Ambiga (picture) charged.
“Furthermore freedom of assembly includes peaceful street protests. By excluding this as a right altogether the Federal Constitution is once again undermined,” she said.
Ambiga moved to punch holes in the Peaceful Assembly Bill tabled this morning, saying it was worse than the existing and unconstitutional section 27 of the Police Act 1967 it was to replace.
“This right is one of the most basic and indispensable of the fundamental freedoms necessary for the functioning of a democratic society and is provided for in the Federal Constitution,” she said and cited from a 2004 Royal Commission on the Police led by former Chief Justice Tun Mohammed Dzaiddin Abdullah to prove her point.
The vocal human rights activist urged the government to immediately withdraw the proposed law if it was sincere to prove correct Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s reformist stand on making Malaysia the “best democracy”.
The prime minister promised a raft of reforms in his Malaysia Day address on September 15, including the repeal of the controversial Internal Security Act (ISA) and doing away with annual permits for the print media, saying he wanted to give Malaysians more freedom.
The former Malaysian Bar president cautioned that voters will be watching the MPs to see who supported the proposed law in the run-up to the 13th general election, widely expected to be called early next year.
But the Bar Council’s current constitutional law committee chief, Syahredzan Johan, took a slightly different stance.
The younger lawyer told The Malaysian Insider that while he had grave misgivings about the government’s prohibition of “street protests” and its definition, he regarded the new law as a “step up” compared to section 27 of the Police Act.
“Section 27 is very oppressive. Anything that loses that is a step forward, with caveats,” he said.
“To me it’s still a step forward because you don’t need a permit from the police anymore. Now they can’t stop you from assembling but we should push forward for the weaknesses to be rectified,” he added.
Pakatan Rakyat MPs in Parliament today castigated the government for presenting a more “repressive” law despite being globally panned after it resorted to tough police measures to clamp down on dissent.
In a city lockdown last July 9 during the Bersih 2.0 rally, police had shot chemical-laced water cannons and tear gas into thousands of street demonstrators demanding for cleaner elections.
The organisers estimated 50,000 people turned out for the rally, but official figures put the figures closer to 6,000 with nearly 1,600 arrested.