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Malaysia: Protesting the Peaceful Assembly Bill

The Malaysian government’s plan to table the Peaceful Assembly Bill has received backlash from some of its citizens who believe that it represses the right to assemble more than granting freedom to hold demonstrations.

UPDATE: The Parliament has approved the bill with no dissenting votes after the Opposition walked out of the sessions.

Some of the provisions of the new law are:

1. 30 days’ advance notice for assemblies except for those done in designated areas as defined by the home minister (this has been reduced to 10 days’ notice instead)

2. A police officer is allowed ‘to take such measures he/she deems necessary’ to ensure compliance

3. The police are allowed to fine organisers up to RM10,000 if no advance notice of a planned assembly is given to the police;

4. The police are allowed to fine those arrested up to RM20,000.

In addition to that, children under the age of 15 are not allowed to participate in any assemblies, and any person under the age of 21 is not allowed to organise an assembly.

Michelle from I Am Malaysian wrote:

One cannot help but wonder about the true purpose of this bill. As many have already said, the right to assemble peaceably and without arms is protected under the Federal Constitution. What this Bill intends to do, the way I see it, is to put shackles and cuffs as mandatory add-ons to this right of peaceful assembly.

Melvin Mah, felt the same way.

To say that to notify someone from the police office of an event 30 days ahead is somewhat hints of the inefficiency of the police side. It also contradicts one of the police slogans of “Mesra, Cepat dan Betul” we used to here many years before. In other countries, similar scenarios will only take between 5 to 10 days for arrangement.

The view of freedom and civil liberties to some people are pretty narrow. In fact Malaysia still remains in the guided-democracy state. This means that only a select group decides what is acceptable and can be said and what cannot be said / done. I often notice how some people talk like in that manner, I would think that they are foaming in their mouths.

Douglas Tan looked at the issue objectively but came to the same conclusion:

After a lot of condemnation from the Bar Council and Opposition MPs, we have to examine whether or not it should be called the “Anti-Assembly Bill” or “Illegal Assembly Bill” as proposed by some quarters.

Notice of the assembly was proposed to be 30 days, which has since been revised to 10 days, after Myanmar's assembly bill which specified a 5 day notice period put us to shame.

The issue of peaceful assemblies has certainly been a contentious one in our country, and most recently we saw 300 people gathering in KLCC park in protest of this very bill. But is it correct to allow an absolute freedom? Some argue that societies with sufficient maturity should not have their rights infringed upon by legislation.

However, I would liken this to removing all the lines, traffic lights, zebra crossings and speed limits on our roads. Now people are truly free to drive on the road, but would you dare? True freedom has boundaries. That way, we know the parameters to operate within.

Therefore, a Peaceful Assembly Bill is certainly essential. However, does the current piece of proposed legislation do us justice? I would submit that it does not. Laws must give space and act as guidelines, but not to the extent that it is stifling.

Glam wrote about the demonstration at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (KLCC) to protest the introduction of the Bill.

Protesting against the Peaceful Assembly Bill. Photo from @savebukitgasing

On Twitter, the hashtag #PA2011 has been popular, as many netizens took to the Internet to voice their frustrations about the issue. While there is also a Facebook group set up to protest the introduction of the law, it has not been popular.

Among some of the Tweets are:

@HRDipendra If Najib (Prime Minister) really cares, he would withdraw #PA2011 and listen to the various interested parties

@fahmi_fadzil Tmrw: 1130am, Lake Garden to Parliament, march against #PA2011, a piece of legislation being pushed by @NajibRazak with “unholy haste”.

@MyConsti #PA2011 if enacted in its current form would contain disproportionate and unreasonable restrictions to your freedom to peaceably assemble.

@PangKheeTeik We R not breakg the law, we R just living our lives. But they've banned the things tt make us human. #Walk4Freedom

Additionally, a ‘Walk for Freedom’ was organized to protest the passage of the bill.

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