Pusat KOMAS: Positive step but further revisions needed of protest law

Pusat KOMAS and global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, welcome the Malaysian government’s efforts to make amendments to the Peaceful Assembly Act, which regulates public assemblies and protests. While some of the proposed changes to the law appear positive, our organisations are concerned that the legislation still falls short of international human rights law and standards, related to the right to peaceful assembly.

The Peaceful Assembly (Amendment) Bill was tabled for its first reading by Deputy Home Minister Mohd Azis Jamman in parliament on 1 July 2019. Some of the positive amendments to the law include; the removal of provisions that make street protests a crime. Further, under the proposed amendments, organisers of peaceful assemblies or street protests need only notify the police officer in charge of a district (OCPD) seven days before the event as opposed to the current 10-day notification period under Section 9(1). We urge the authorities to ensure that prior notification must not be used to stifle freedom of peaceful assembly in practice but to enable the authorities to meet their duty to facilitate the assembly.

Despite these changes, Pusat Komas and CIVICUS are concerned about gaps in the law that need to be addressed before the amendments are passed. The Peaceful Assembly Act still lacks provisions to allow an exception to the notice requirement for spontaneous assemblies, where it is not practicable to give advance notice. Under international law, protests that are organised in rapid response to an unforeseen development and which, in the opinion of participants, cannot be postponed should not be subjected to prior notification procedures. Also, the continued imposition of sanctions in Section 4(2) in the law are problematic.

The law also continues to make it a criminal offence for individuals under 21-years-old to organise an assembly, and for children to attend an assembly. This is inconsistent with the Federal Constitution where there is no age limit to the right to freedom of assembly as well as the Convention on the Rights of a Child (CRC) which Malaysia is a state party to. Instead, the government should ensure that the participants of any peaceful assemblies are protected, regardless of their age.

Further, under the law, non-citizens are also denied the right to organize or participate in protests, which is clearly discriminatory. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly is particularly important for non-citizens especially the many migrant workers and refugees, who may often lack other mechanisms with which to advance their concerns and rights.

There are also concerns about the process of drafting the revisions to the law – before it was submitted to parliament – which lacked transparency and adequate consultation with all relevant stakeholders in particularly civil society organisations.

Pusat Komas and CIVICUS believe it is crucial that revisions to the Peaceful Assembly Act is undertaken in a comprehensive manner and consistent with commitments made to the international community at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva during its Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Both the government and parliament must address these issues before the passage of these amendments. Failing to do so will be a missed opportunity to strengthen fundamental freedoms as part of the governments’ reform agenda and protecting the right to peaceful assembly, a key component of a democratic society.

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates the space for civil society in Malaysia as ‘Obstructed’.

For more information, please contact:
Ryan Chua at ryanc@komas.org (Pusat Komas) or
Josef Benedict at josef.benedict@civicus.org (CIVICUS)

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