KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 23 – Barisan Nasional MPs today defended the new laws regulating public assembly, saying that it showed progress and guaranteed more freedom compared to previous legislation.
BN leaders argued that the Peaceful Assembly Bill was favourable to “all parties”, and said the restrictions were necessary to keep society in check.
“Civil rights groups have to understand, unbridled rights is a recipe for disaster,” Umno MP Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan told The Malaysian Insider.
“Dissenting views must be heard, and it is included in the spirit of the law. The government has shifted its approach from a position of absolute power to advisory,” the Kota Belud MP said.
Citing the Police Act as an example, Abdul Rahman said new regulations was an improvement of the old Act.
He said the new laws did not require anyone to apply for a permit from the police, only a formal notification.
“You have to compare the new law to Section 27 of the Police Act. Some people are now complaining about the need to notify the police.
“That is needed for their protection, if you don’t inform the police how can they protect you if anything happens?” asked the BN backbencher.
Datuk Wan Junaidi Wan Jaafar said the new assembly law showed progress and that the government had satisfied the needs of all Malaysians.
“You want to have your right to a demonstration at Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, but people who live there also have their rights.
“The law is more relaxed, and gives more work to the police,” said the Dewan Rakyat Deputy Speaker.
MIC Hulu Selangor MP P. Kamalanathan told The Malaysian Insider the assembly law accorded all Malaysians equal rights to organise assemblies or participate in one, saying that it ensured daily businesses and lives of other Malaysians would not be disrupted.
The government yesterday 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, Pakatan Rakyat 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.”
PR described the Peaceful Assembly Bill as repressive and restrictive of civil freedom, claiming it accords the police even more power to arrest individuals.
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.
Datuk Seri Najib Razak 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.