Commissioner Muhammad Sha'ani Abdullah said that after Suhakam had issued a press statement criticising the Peaceful Assembly Bill before it was passed, attorney-general Abdul Gani Patail was “not happy” and claimed that Suhakam had already been consulted.
However, Sha’ani (right) said that Suhakam’s chairperson Hasmy Agam was briefed on the matter verbally and was never shown the full Bill.
“Since then, no Bills were even verbally consulted,” he said.
Sha'ani pointed out that Suhakam has the legal mandate to advise the government when developing new laws, but it cannot do so without access to the Bills.
“The government shares all full draft bills with any government agency before they submit it to Parliament, except Suhakam.
“Of course we are not a government agency, but we are a statutory body... we have the statutory duty to advise the government on any new laws or amendments. But we are not given a copy of the bill,” he told a public forum today.
Sha’ani was speaking in Kuala Lumpur today as a panellist at a forum on the freedom of assembly and association, co-organised by the Bar Council and human rights NGO Suaram.
He pointed out that Malaysia had only ratified three UN conventions, while almost all other countries had ratified more.
Those ratified are the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
This leaves Malaysia on the eighth position in the Asean region (out of ten) in terms of number of conventions ratified.
Similarly, Malaysia ranks 108th out of 110 on the same scale, Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) countries, the last position among 57 Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) members, 49th out of 54 Commonwealth nations, and 184th out of 195 countries worldwide, Sha’ani said.
“So this is something to reflect, and also to lobby relevant stakeholders and demand the government to respect and fulfil human rights,” he said.
Assembly Act meant to confuse
Meanwhile, another panellist S Arutchelvan (below) argued that the Peaceful Assembly Act was never about giving permission to assemble, but to confuse and control the people.
The activist and Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) secretary-general in a brief history of government response to protests, said that prior to the 1998 Reformasi movement, Section 141 of the Penal Code was used against protestors.
However, the government switched to using the charging of protestors for participating in an assembly without a police permit instead, since it was difficult to prove ‘criminal intent’ for the hundreds of the Reformasi activists arrested, as required for a conviction under Section 141.
He said this got activists to try to apply for permits, but in the end they had to simply defy the law when they realised that the permit could be revoked at the last minute even if it was granted.
This, he said, forced the police to switch tactics and use restraining orders, but this failed miserably during the Bersih 2.0 rally last year where all of those banned from entering downtown Kuala Lumpur defied the order, along with tens of thousands of supporters.
“(The introduction of the Peaceful Assembly Act) was because they (the government) found out that they needed something new to confuse people. Nobody was listening to their earlier Acts.
“That is why you have the Peaceful Assembly Act to give you the notion that they are listening to you, and the same time warning you (that) you can’t bring children, etc...,” he said.
Arutchelvan said that there is no difference between having to apply for the police permit under the previous legislation, and informing the police of an upcoming protest under the current legislation.
The issue therefore boils down to whether civil society wants to follow unjust laws or not.
“At the end of the day, public assemblies can throw out bad laws. It is not Parliament or lawyers, but because people assemble to demand for change. I think that is the biggest strength we have,” he said.
Among the other speakers addressing the 50-odd members of the public were lawyer Baljit Singh Sidhu who explained the Peaceful Assembly Act, and UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association Maina Kiai who shared other countries’ experiences on these issues.