Friday, December 2, 2011

Assembly law restricts religious freedom, says interfaith group

Assembly law restricts religious freedom, says interfaith group

December 02, 2011
Malaysian Insider

A man holds a sign during a protest against the Peaceful Assembly Bill in Kuala Lumpur, November 26, 2011. — Picture by Jack Ooi
KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 2 — A non-Muslim inter-faith body said today the Peaceful Assembly Bill goes against the freedom of religion as guaranteed by the Federal Constitution.

The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) said the Bill, which was passed by Dewan Rakyat this week, gives the police and home minister “more powers and is aimed at stifling democratic space”.

“MCCBCHST is particularly concerned that the new Bill now specifies places where public assembly cannot be held and they include all places of worship.

“This proposed provision in the Bill goes against the letter and spirit of Article 11 of the Federal Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion,” it said in a statement today.

Calling the proposed law restrictive and repressive, the council said it appears to ban all demonstrations unless approved by the police.

“The removal of the requirement to obtain police permit is illusory as the assembly cannot proceed if police object. The Bill also gives the final say to refuse gathering on ground of cultural or religious sensitivity.

“While governments all over the world are opening up democratic space, we appear to be back tracking,” it added, calling for the Bill to be withdrawn before being passed by Dewan Negara.

Critics have said the proposed law, which bars street protests, is more repressive than those in countries like Myanmar, which has one of the world’s poorest human rights records.

Myanmar’s military-dominated Parliament passed a law last week allowing street protests and a notice period of five days, fewer than the 10 days required by the Peaceful Assembly Bill.

The Bill prohibits assemblies from being held at dams, reservoirs, water catchment areas, water treatment plants, electricity generating stations, petrol stations, hospitals, fire stations, airports, railways, land public transport terminals, ports, canals, docks, wharves, piers, bridges, marinas, places of worship and kindergartens and schools.

The federal opposition has called for the Bill to be withdrawn and put before a parliamentary select committee.

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