Hakam rights group urges Putrajaya to lift all curbs on public protests

Lim said street protests are an inherent and inalienable part of the freedom to assembly under the Federal Constitution. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Lim said street protests are an inherent and inalienable part of the freedom to assembly under the Federal Constitution. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, July 2 — The National Human Rights Society (Hakam) lauded the government's move to decriminalise street protests but said it should explore removing remaining restrictions on public demonstrations.

Hakam secretary-general Lim Wei Jiet noted that those under the age of 21 were still prohibited from joining protests, saying this contradicted the government’s plan to lower the voting age to 18.

“Hakam urges the government to consider repealing or amending provisions to Section 4(2)(d) and 4(2)(e) and (f) which criminalise people under-21 to attend or organise an assembly under the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012.

“Street protests are an inherent and inalienable part of the freedom to assembly under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution and has been an effective tool for citizens to ventilate their concerns,” said Lim through a statement.

“Children have a right to have their voices heard too as the Girl Guides in Malaysia did when they assembled near Parliament to protest child marriage and when schoolchildren all over the world protest on climate change.”

In Parliament yesterday, the government proposed removing street protests as a criminal offence via an amendment to the Peaceful Assembly Act PAA (2012) and reducing the mandatory notice period to authorities from 10 days to seven.

The PAA allows public demonstrations but technically prohibits street protests and other forms of moving assemblies, which is punishable by a fine of up to RM10,000.

Lim also suggested that the notice period be removed entirely rather than reduced, saying it was redundant as assemblies held without fulfilling the notice were not rendered illegal.

“There is no provision in the Act which stipulated that an assembly held without the giving of the requisite prior notice was per se unlawful.

“Hence, it is wholly disproportionate to criminalize such mere administrative failure or omission.

“Furthermore there are certain assemblies which need to be urgently organised at short notice in response to a sudden event such as inhumane air strikes towards Palestinians in Gaza.”

Yesterday Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin expressed his confidence that the amendment will not lead to violent protests.

The minister also insisted that the proposed changes were made after “consultation with many bodies including the Bar Council, the Lawyers for Liberty, and other civil liberties. We have roped in many people before we made the decision.”

Lim, who also sits on the Bar Council’s Constitutional Law Committee, disputed this.

“Hakam wishes to put on record that it was consulted for feedback on the weaknesses of the current Peaceful Assembly Act 2012, but was never consulted in the drafting or preparation of the recent Peaceful Assembly (Amendment) Bill.

“Hakam urges the government to collaborate more closely with civil society in the drafting of legislation, so that more comprehensive changes to our laws can be achieved.”

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