Source: Human Rights Watch

November 29, 2011

Y.A.B. Dato’ Sri Hj. Mohd. Najib Bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak
Prime Minister
Office of the Prime Minister
Main Block, Perdana Putra Building
Federal Government Administrative Centre
62502 Putrajaya, Malaysia

Via facsimile: +60 3 8888 3444

Re: Peaceful Assembly Bill

Dear Prime Minister Najib,

Human Rights Watch writes to share our deep concerns regarding the Peaceful Assembly Bill (PA 2011), now before the Malaysian parliament.

Our immediate concern is that the Malaysian Bar Council be permitted to conduct without disruption from police or counter-protesters their planned peaceful march in Kuala Lumpur from the Royal Lake Club to Parliament, which is scheduled to start at 11:30 a.m. today. As you are doubtlessly aware, the Bar Council plans to hand over a written submission of their proposed amendments to PA 2011 to Y.B. Datuk Liew Vui Keong, deputy minister in the prime minister’s department. Since we understand that counter-protesters may also be present during the Bar Council’s march, we urge you to instruct the police to keep both protests separate to ensure that all groups may peacefully assemble to make their views known.

The Bar Council’s demonstration and all other peaceful protests related to deliberations over the PA 2011 should be accorded their rights to peaceful assembly, in accordance with protections outlined in article 10 of Malaysia’s constitution and article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Human Rights Watch notes that in your Malaysia Day speech, you stated that “the Government will also review section 27 of the Police Act 1967, taking into consideration Article 10 of the Federal Constitution regarding freedom of assembly and so as to be in line with international norms on the same matter.”  We commend your initiative to revamp the Police Act to do away with the requirement that organizers of a public assembly receive a permit in advance to proceed.

However, Human Rights Watch has identified a number of serious problems with the proposed PA 2011 that introduce restrictions which are not compatible with international human rights standards. Most important is the express prohibition of “assemblies in motion”—marches and processions that often take place on streets. Under general principles of international human rights law, any restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly must be necessary for public order and proportionate to the circumstances—a wholesale ban cannot meet those requirements. Every day, major cities around the world accommodate peaceful street protests and marches without disrupting the life of the city and its inhabitants and without having the protests erupt in violence.

We are further concerned with section 15(2)(h) of the Peaceful Assembly Bill, which cedes wide discretionary power to the district police chief to decide on, among other factors, the date, time, and duration of an assembly; the conduct of the participants; accommodation to the interests of others, such as business owners; and “any other matter that he deems necessary or expedient in relation to the assembly.” In addition, section 21(2) of the bill provides that the police officer, in exercising the power to disperse an assembly, may use “all reasonable force” —but then fails to define what constitutes “reasonable” and what sort of situations would prompt that use of force.

Parliament should also revise the provision of the draft law that states that no assembly may be held at a “prohibited place” or within 50 meters of a place so designated. The list of prohibited places is unnecessarily long, raising concerns that these restrictions will make it virtually impossible to hold an assembly in an urban setting.

The Peaceful Assembly Bill reserves wide powers for Malaysia’s home minister, including to determine whether an assembly may be legally held. Government objections to planned assemblies should ultimately be resolved by the courts, not a government minister.

Proposed prohibitions on children under 15 years and non-Malaysian citizens participating at an assembly are unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions, and are discriminatory.

Finally, Human Rights Watch notes with concern the undue haste with which PA 2011 is apparently being propelled through parliament and the lack of meaningful consultation with civil society  that occurred prior to its being tabled. We urge that the bill be immediately withdrawn so that it can be referred to a Parliamentary Select Committee where all stakeholders can take part in a public consultation process to propose amendments to the draft law. PA 2011 should not be tabled until the defects outlined above—as well as others identified—are removed. The bill should only be enacted if it respects the right to peaceful assembly recognized under international law.

Malaysia stated in its campaign for a seat as a member of the United Nation Human Rights Council that it would promote and uphold international human rights standards. PA 2011 is one of the biggest tests of that commitment, and Malaysia should rise to the occasion and uphold the standards it pledged to respect when it stood for election.

Sincerely,

Phil Robertson
Deputy Director, Asia Division

Cc:
Y.A.B. Tan Sri Dato’ Haji Muhyiddin Bin Mohd. Yassin, Deputy Prime Minister
Y.B. Dato’ Seri Hishammuddin Bin Tun Hussein, Minister of Home Affairs
Tan Sri Haji Ismail Bin Haji Omar, Inspector General of Police
The Honorable Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail, Attorney General
Y.B. Dato’ Seri Mohamed Nazri bin Tan Sri Abdul Aziz, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department