Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sad news as Senate passes Peaceful Assembly Bill - now all up to the King


Press Statement: 21 December 2011

Passing of the PA Bill 2011: 10 steps backwards and against the Fundamental Liberties!

The committee of Campaign for Freedom to Assemble strongly condemns the passage of the Peaceful Assembly Bill 2011 by the Senate yesterday. We comprised of 30 over Civil Society groups and individuals are disappointed at the passage of the bill despite protests from civil society groups from around the country and internationally.  The passage of the Bill is now a foregone conclusion and it is expected to become law by next year after the Yang di-Pertuan Agong signs it and it gets gazetted.

The Bill is Politically Motivated
The hotly contested Bill was first tabled at parliament on the 22nd of November 2011 at the Dewan Rakyat (House of Representative) and then the bill was passed by the House on the 29th of November. Presently, the bill has just been passed by the Senate with only a day of debate. 

The Bill was meant to replace Section 27 of Police Act that governed the need for a police permit to hold any assemblies, meetings and processions. Although the bill which has been passed in the Senate is the amended version; it still bans street protests, there is no room for spontaneous protest, there is a prohibition for non-citizens and citizens under 21 years of age to assemble peacefully, there is a conditional access to media for public gatherings, and it provides a wide range of power to the police.
This new Peaceful Assembly Bill will pose a threat to democracy. The limitation of the right to freedom of assembly is unreasonable and unjustifiable in a democratic society. The move by the government of Malaysia is fully politically motivated and is ten steps backwards in terms of human rights. This is an outright disgrace for the Malaysia government despite being a member of the UN Human Rights Council.

UN Experts Condemn the Bill!
The Bill also came under fire by a group of United Nations independent experts who warned that a new Peaceful Assembly Bill in Malaysia may “arbitrarily and disproportionately restrict the right to assemble peacefully”.

The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, expressed his deep regret that “neither the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), nor civil society was meaningfully consulted in the drafting of this Bill.” He also claimed that many of these restrictions are not justifiable under international law.  The UN Experts warned the government of Malaysia and stressed their position that, under international human rights law, “everyone” has the right to freedom of assembly and association, without distinction of any kind, including nationality, and appeal to the Government of Malaysia to urgently review the Bill to ensure its compliance with fundamental human rights.

Withdraw the Bill Immediately and repeal Section 27 of Police Act!

The BN/UMNO government has used its Parliamentary majority to force through a bad law that risks doing more harm than good. It sets a worrying precedent for this Parliament. The Bill is constitutionally inconsistent as well as being illiberal. It has also codified the recent approach of the government towards demonizing peaceful assemblies (such as by reference to the rights of third parties).

Malaysia’s Senate should have shown leadership and upheld the rights of all in Malaysia by rejecting this reprehensible bill. If the bill becomes law, this measure would put a wide range of people at risk of criminal sanctions for exercising their basic rights. This includes ordinary citizens with legitimate reasons to protest, students, indigenous peoples opposing land encroachment, and workers, as well as human rights defenders and their friends, families and colleagues.

We are concerned about the repercussion of these proposed legislative changes on the work of Malaysian NGOs, civil society groups, political parties and citizens. The new proposed legislation while recognising the need for peaceful assembly merely acts to further limit this fundamental right.
We hereby urge the government to adopt the recommendations made by SUHAKAM in its 2001 special report on ‘Freedom of Assembly’ to the Parliament. In the report, SUHAKAM proposed several noteworthy recommendations based on the findings and best practices in other countries and through various discussions with the police and other interested parties.
We oppose the Bill and urge the government to withdraw the Bill immediately. We also urge the government to remove restrictions under the Section 27A of the Police Act and Penal Code and establish an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) as per the recommendations made by the 2005 Royal Commission on Policing without further delay.
Please contact Miss Nalini at 03 77843525 or 019 3758912 for any queries.

Released by,
Secretariat of the Campaign for the Freedom to Assemble


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