Malaysia

Pakatan wants assembly law withdrawn

By Shazwan Mustafa Kamal
November 23, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 23 – Pakatan Rakyat (PR) lawmakers today demanded the government withdraw the new Peaceful Assembly Bill, calling it an “undemocratic” response to demands for  civil rights in Malaysia.

Opposition leaders yesterday described the proposed law as repressive and restrictive of civil freedom, claiming it accords the police even more power to arrest individuals.

PR’s defacto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (picture) said today that opposition MPs will oppose the bill when it is debated in Parliament tomorrow for the second reading.

“There is no proper guarantee, this bill gives absolute powers to the police, with which the appeal rests with the minister. This is not democractic,” Anwar told reporters here.

The Permatang Pauh MP also said PR will hand in a protest memorandum on the new bill tomorrow to the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam).

“(Datuk Seri) Najib (Razak) smashed into smithereens the mirage he created two months ago,” said DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang.

PAS vice-president Datuk Mahfuz Omar chimed in and said the proposed new law was like “keluar mulut harimau masuk mulut buaya” (coming out of the mouth of a tiger and going into the mouth of a crocodile).

“Withdraw the bill, it won’t do,” Lim added.

The government tabled the law regulating public gatherings, two months after the prime minister first pledged reforms to laws on security and public assembly.

Shortly after it was unveiled, PR leaders said the new bill was “worse” than previous laws on public assembly, and that it simply meant “people could not gather anywhere in Malaysia”.

Section 27 of the bill states that public gatherings cannot be held in the following areas: petrol stations, hospitals, fire stations, airports, railways, land public transport terminals, ports, canals, docks, bridges, places of worship, kindergartens and schools as well as dams and reservoirs.

It states that no street protests are allowed, and bars any assembly in or within a 50 metre buffer zone around the listed prohibited areas.

Section 9 (5) of the bill allows the police to fine organisers up to RM10,000 if no advance notice of a planned assembly is given to the authorities.

Section 20 (1) (c) allows for police to arrest anyone who brings or recruits children in an assembly.

Section 21 (3) allows protesters arrested by police to be fined up to RM20,000.

The new law says that there also must be 30 days’ advance notice for assemblies except for designated areas defined by the home minister. The assemblies can then proceed unless there is objection by the police.

Simultaneous assemblies may be held, but this is subject to the discretion of the police. If a “counter assembly” should cause potential conflict with another assembly nearby, police have the right to name an alternative location and time for the counter assembly to be held.

Individuals under 21 years of age not allowed to organise assemblies and children under 15 are not allowed to participate in assemblies except for cultural and religious ones like funeral corteges or events approved by the home minister.

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.

He further said the government will review Section 27 of the Police Act by taking into account Article 10 of the Federal Constitution that relates to freedom of assembly.

According to Najib, the government will allow public gatherings based on international norms while taking a firm stand against street demonstrations.

The Restricted Residence and Banishment Acts were already repealed last month, and Najib has said the repeal of the ISA will take place in March after two replacement laws have been drafted.