Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Peaceful Assembly Bill - A curtailment of rights

On 16 September 2011 after promises of reform i.e. the repeal of the ISA amongst others, was announced by our PM, we had for a moment a glimmer of hope. We were however also told that there will be two new pieces of legislation to replace the ISA, the Banishment Act and the OSA.
We waited with bated breathe.

Just last week, a new bill was tabled. One that the PM claims to be revolutionary and to improve the rights of individual freedom. Once again, talk is cheap. It's easier to make blanket statements and pray that people buy these statements as truth.

Unfortunately, upon a review of the Peaceful Assembly Bill, we know now that the contents of the bill are far from progressive, but in fact even more repressive and draconian and is a worst off than the Police Act. Already, the need to obtain a permit to assemble peacefully under the Police Act is unconstitutional as it curtails the fundamental liberties set out under our Federal Constitution i.e. Article 10 which gives us the right to assemble peacefully.
If there is a need for a permit, and one which can only be issued by the Police, then it makes the Police higher than the law of the land, the Federal Constitution.

Anyway, below are the FAQ's compiled and published by the Bar Council's Constitutional Law Committee. And perhaps, whoever you are, wherever you are, if you are Malaysian, or sympathetic to the Malaysian cause for freedom and transparency, then this is reproduced in this blog for your benefit:-

The Government is currently trying to pass the Peaceful Assembly Bill 2011 (PA2011) in Parliament. PA2011 seeks to restrict and regulate the freedom of assembly guaranteed under Article 10(1)(b) of the Federal Constitution. Once the Bill is passed by the Dewan Rakyat and the Senate, and it receives the assent of the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, it will become law and can be enforced against all Malaysians and non-citizens. Below is an explanation of some of the key provisions in PA2011.

Q: What does PA2011 say?
A: Amongst other things, PA2011 says:
- 'Street protests' are banned.
- Notice of an assembly must be given to the police within 30 days before the assembly date.
- The police can impose restrictions and conditions on the conduct of the assembly.
- If organizers or participants do not comply with the restrictions and conditions, the police can arrest them and disperse the assembly.
- Not complying with the restrictions and conditions is an offence. On conviction, a person can be fined up to RM10,000.00
- The police have wide powers to disperse the assembly.
- A person who fails to disperse when ordered by the police commits an offence. On conviction, the person can be fined not more than RM20,000.00

Q: what is an "assembly" under PA2011?
A: Under PA2011, gatherings of the public or if it is a private venue, so long as it is for the time being open to or be used by the public. For example, a public forum held at a private venue could, for the time of the forum, be considered to be an assembly under PA2011.

Q: Are there exceptions in PA2011 to the requirement to notify the police of an assembly?
A: At the moment, the only gatherings that do not have to be notified to the police are religious assemblies, funeral processions, wedding receptions, open houses during festivities, family gatherings, family days held by employees for the benefit of employees and their families and general meetings of societies or associations.

Q: What restrictions and conditions can be imposed by the police on an assembly?
A: The police can change the date, time, duration and the place of the assembly. The police can limit what the participants can or cannot say or do. The police can impose conditions regarding payment of clean-up costs and any inherent environmental factor, cultural or religious sensitivity and historical significance of the place of assembly. Importantly, the police can impose any other restrictions which they deem necessary or expedient.

Q: Does PA2011 say that certain people cannot join an assembly?
A: Yes. Children below 15 years of age and non-citizens cannot participate in an assembly. Also people under 21 years cannot organise assemblies.

Q: Under PA2011. are there specific places where assemblies cannot be held?
A: Yes, assemblies cannot be held at or within 50 metres of dams, reservoirs. water catchment areas, water treatment plants, electricity generating stations, petrol stations, hospitals, fire stations, airports, railways, public transport terminals, ports, canals, docks, wharves, piers, bridges marinas, places of worship, kindergartens and schools. This means for example, that you do not need to notify the police of a religious assembly (see the earlier questions) but you cannot hold an assembly at a place of worship. Also, if you live within 50 metres of a kindergarten or school, you cannot hold an open house for a festival, a funeral procession or a wedding reception in your house.

Q: Does PA2011 ban street protest?
A: Under PA2011, "street protests" are banned and this has been confirmed by the Government in the media. However under PA2011. processions (i.e. group gathering in one place and moving towards another) still seems to be permitted under the meaning of "assemblies". Therefore PA2011 appears to allow the police to decide what is a "Street Protest" and what is a "procession". If the police say that an assembly being organized by Group A to gather at one place and move to another is a "street protest", it will be banned . If the police say that an assembly being organized by Group B to gather at one place and move to another is a "procession", it will not be banned and the police will allow Group B to proceed.

Q: Does PA2011 allow the police to use tear gas, water cannons and batons on participants at an assembly?
A: PA2011 does not prevent the police from using tear gas, water cannons and batons on participants at an assembly. Under PA2011, the police can use "all reasonable force" to disperse an assembly in certain circumstances but PA2011 does not say what " all reasonable force" means.

Q: Under PA2011, do the police have to give warning before using "all reasonable force" to disperse an assembly?
A: PA2011 does not say that the police must give warning to the organisers or participants to disperse before they can use all reasonable force to disperse an assembly.

Q: When does PA2011 become law?
A: PA 2011 is currently (25.11.11) a proposed law before the Dewan Rakyat. Once passed by the Dewan Rakyat, it will go before the Dewan Negara. Once it is passed in the Dewan Negara and the Royal Assent is obtained, the Minister of Home Affairs will fix date for PA2011 to take effect.

Understand the above. We all need to oppose legislation such as these. This in it's simplest meaning or reading, shows no signs of progression of fundamental liberties and rights. You can read this in the BC Constitutional Law Comm website as well here.

What can you do?
Support the Bar Council's initiatives to have the PA2011 amended -

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