Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New assembly law chokes liberty, says Pakatan

New assembly law chokes liberty, says Pakatan

November 22, 2011
Malaysian Insider

Lim said the new law would allow the police greater leeway in clamping down on public assemblies. — File pic
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 22 — Pakatan Rakyat today described the Peaceful Assembly Bill as repressive and restrictive of civil freedom, claiming it accords the police even more power to arrest individuals.

The government today finally 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.

“This new bill should be called the illegal assembly bill; it is worse than the previous laws,” DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng told reporters here.

“Malaysia is full of places of worship, so looking at the prohibited areas, you cannot gather anywhere in Malaysia.”

“This is further oppression, suppression,” he added.

Lim said under the Police Act, there was specific mention of how many people would constitute a public gathering, and that the fine for illegal assembly was between RM2,000 to RM10,000.

“Now, you can get fined up to RM20,000. And there is no mention on the number of people, police can take action and arrest anybody,” said Lim.

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.

“This is like another version of the University and University Colleges Act. The police now have added powers,” added the Penang chief minister.

PKR secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution told The Malaysian Insider that parts of the bill made it even more difficult for people to have peaceful assemblies.

“The reality is that the police will sit on an application till the very last minute, and everything is now up to the police’s discretion.

“The fines are even higher now; this is worse and is clearly meant to oppress and repress people and scare them from expressing their rights to assemble,” he said.

The Machang MP said that the new bill was a “far cry” from what PM Datuk Seri Najib Razak had promised Malaysians on the eve of Malaysia Day.

The Malaysian Insider reported recently the new law will replace Section 27 of the Police Act, doing away with police permits for mass assemblies other than street protests.

But the new law will require the “collaboration” of various parties before a public gathering can be held.

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.

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