Malaysian lawmakers are set to debate on whether street protests should no longer be classified as a crime, as the nation’s Deputy Home Minister Mohd Azis Jamman tabled the Peaceful Assembly (Amendment) Bill for its first reading on Mon (1 Jul).
The Bill is scheduled to be debated and passed on 18 Jul.
Should the Bill be passed, changes will be made to the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 (PAA) to include unarmed street protests so long as the protests do not disrupt public order and security.
Currently, the Act explicitly stipulates under Section 4(1)(c) that street protests do not fall under the category of those with the right to organise or participate in unarmed, peaceful assembly:
The proposed amendments will also include reducing the period required for organisers to notify the district police officer in the area the assembly will be held from 10 days to seven days, and also those who wish to object to a peaceful assembly from 48 hours to 24 hours before the event.
Organisers will also be given 24 hours to make an appeal to the Home Minister against restrictions imposed by the district police officer on their proposed protest.
Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said that the amendments, should they be passed, will not lead to unbridled violence and riots, as there are other laws in place to keep protestors in check.
Speaking to reporters at the Parliament lobby on Mon in response to queries regarding whether the amendments will pave the way to protests similar to the ones in Hong Kong currently, Muhyiddin said: “If they say it would be a peaceful street protest, then that is what it should be in the spirit of the law.”
“But what happens when it turns out to be rowdy, rough and a lot of other things, then other laws would have to come in, such as the Penal Code or other provision of the laws to ensure that there will be always peace,” he added.
The move to make street protests part of a peaceful assembly, said Muhyiddin, is part of the current government’s efforts to uphold the right of Malaysians to freedom of association and expression as provided for under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution.
“We have taken into account many things and this isn’t done just by the [Home] ministry,” he said, adding: “There are two committees that were formed to look into all the amendments.”
The government, he added, consulted many legal bodies “Bar Council, Lawyers for Liberty, Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) and National Human Rights Society (Hakam)”.
“We had also roped in many people (for their views) before we proceeded with any decision. This shows that the government wants to make sure (the people enjoy) what is provided for in the Constitution, which is freedom of association and expression.”
The PAA was passed by Dewan Rakyat – the Lower House of the Malaysian Parliament – amid uproar from opposition Members of Parliament and members of civil society under Najib Razak’s administration in Nov 2011. It came into force in Apr 2012, The Star Online reported.