The Bar Council declared that its Walk for Freedom on Tuesday will continue despite the concession from the government that it would consider reviewing a number of the provisions in the proposed Peaceful Assembly Bill.
“Whilst it is mildly positive that the government - in reaction to public protest - is considering amending seven provisions, save for reduction of the notification period, we know not of other amendments...,” said the council chairperson Lim Chee Wee (right).
“However, it in fact reflects what is so wrong with the process involving the bill - it is being rushed with unholy haste into law without adequate public consultation.”
Lim said the best solution would be to refer the bill to a parliamentary select committee for public consultation and further deliberation.
The Bar Council has yesterday called for its 14,000-strong members to march to the Parliament on Tuesday where the bill is to be debated.
“In the UK, a distinction is drawn between static assemblies for which no notice is required and procession (assemblies in motion) for which notice of six clear days is to be give unless it is not reasonably practicable to give any advance notice. In Finland, only six hours is required,” said Lim.
“In Malaysia, assemblies in motion or processions except for funeral processions, are prohibited. This is outrageous.”
Notification period to be slashed
Minister in Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Abdul Aziz today confirmed reports that the cabinet had agreed to change parts of the controversial bill.
He said the 30-day notification period required for a public assembly will now be reduced to 10 days. But he did not mention whether the prohibition on street protests as stated in the proposed bill will be removed.
According to Lim, street protests allow “the demonstrators wider audience and visibility for others to see and hear what is the cause or grievance that these demonstrators are marching and speaking about”.
“The government cannot now rob us of this right of assemblies in motion, which is presently not prohibited in the Police Act - this and other provisions in the bill are objectionable,” said Lim.
He said, among others, they include:
- Prohibition of organisation of assemblies by persons below the age of 21 years.
- Prohibition of participation in peaceful assemblies of children below the age of 15 years.
- Unduly onerous responsibilities and restrictions on organisers and assemblies.
- Excessive fines for non-compliance of the bill.
One of the organisers, Maria Chin Abdullah, said the bill is unconstitutional as it restricts the right to peaceful assembly. She said amending it would be insufficient.
"It's like cleaning poison out of food. You can't," the prominent women's rights activist told AFP.