Amendments to Peaceful Assembly Act welcomed – but more can be done

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Uphold the right to freedom of assembly - Image: Amnesty International

Hakam welcomes the government’s efforts to amend the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 to remove “street protests” as a criminal offence.

Street protests are an inherent and inalienable part of the freedom to assembly under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution – and have been an effective tool for citizens to ventilate their concerns.

However, many provisions in the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 still curtail fundamental freedoms and impose unreasonable restrictions.

Hakam urges the government to consider repealing or amending the following provisions of the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012:

  • Making it a criminal offence for people under 21 years old to organise an assembly (Section 4(2)(d)) (This is inconsistent with the government’s recent attempts to lower the voting age to 18 and to empower youths to make important decisions.)
  • Making it a criminal offence for children to attend an assembly (Section 4(2)(e) and (f)). (Children have a right to have their voices heard too – as the Girl Guides in Malaysia did when they assembled near Parliament to protest child marriage and when schoolchildren all over the world protest on climate change)
  • Making it a criminal offence for an organiser’s failure to give notification of an assembly 10 days beforehand (Section 9(1) and (5)) – the government now seeks to shorten it to seven days’ notice) (The court should take heed of the decision in Nik Nazmi bin Nik Ahmad v Public Prosecutor (2014), where the Court of Appeal held that Section 9(5) – which stipulates that a failure of notification could result in an offence amounting to a RM10,000 fine – was unconstitutional. There is no provision in the act which stipulates that an assembly held without the giving of the requisite prior notice was per se unlawful – hence, it is wholly disproportionate to criminalise such a mere administrative failure or omission. Further, there are certain assemblies which need to be urgently organised at short notice in respond to a sudden event – such as inhumane air strikes towards Palestinians in Gaza.)
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Hakam would also like to address Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s statement on 1 July, where he said: “There were lots of consultations with many bodies, including the Bar Council, Lawyers for Liberty, Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) and National Human Rights Society (Hakam).”

Hakam wishes to put on record that it was consulted for feedback on the weaknesses of the current Peaceful Assembly Act 2012, but was never consulted in the drafting or preparation of the recent Peaceful Assembly (Amendment) Bill.

Hakam urges the government to collaborate more closely with civil society in the drafting of the legislation, so that more comprehensive changes to our laws can be achieved.

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