The Malaysian government has introduced a law which would further tighten the country’s excessive restrictions on peaceful protest ahead of next year's expected general elections, Amnesty International said today.
If enacted, the Peaceful Assembly Bill would effectively prohibit street protests and fine demonstrators who fail to comply up to 20,000 Malaysian ringgit (US$6,000). The Malaysian Parliament is to consider the bill on Tuesday.
"This bill is a legislative attack on Malaysians’ right to peaceful protest,” said Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific director at Amnesty International. “The Malaysian parliament should firmly reject this legislation.”
Last July, the authorities launched a brutal crackdown on freedom of peaceful assembly when the Coalition for Clean Elections, known as Bersih, held a march for electoral reforms in Kuala Lumpur. Police beat peaceful protesters, fired tear gas canisters into the crowd, and arrested at least 1,667 demonstrators.
In the bill street protest is broadly defined as “open-air assembly which begins with a meeting at a specified place and consists of walking in a mass march or rally for the purpose of objecting to or advancing a particular cause or causes.”
This goes against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which endorses the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association (article 20).
The bill restricts demonstrations to enclosed locations, such as stadiums, and requires protest organizers to obtain police permission in advance. Under public pressure, the Cabinet on Friday reduced from 30 days to 10 days the advance requirement for organizers of a public assembly to notify the police.
Nonetheless, police are given wide discretionary powers to impose restrictions on public assembly. Organizers of the July march known as Bersih 2.0 were denied permits for assembly, both in the street and at a stadium.
This bill would put Malaysia in violation of many of its international treaty obligations. For example, it restricts children below the age of 15 from participating in peaceful public assembly. Under the Convention of the Rights of the Child, to which Malaysia is a party, children have "the freedom to have their say, and the right to form associations and assemble peacefully" (article 15).
“If the Malaysian government is serious about holding free and fair elections, it needs to end this assault on the right to peaceful protest,” said Sam Zarifi.