Najib serves old wine in new bottle

Instead of allowing more space for public assembly, the new Peaceful Assembly Bill would further stifle lawful dissent and perpetuate a culture of fear.

Bersih 2.0 steering committee member, Wong Chin Huat said the new Bill was a scam and bluntly called Najib a “moderate dictator”. “Its just a cosmetic change, like you are changing the name of Official Secrets Act (OSA) to Freedom of Information Bill while the former’s clauses are still intact,” he said.

G Vinod, Free Malaysia Today

All street protests have been outlawed. Rally organisers have to give one month’s notice to the police. And if you under 15, don’t even be seen at any rally.

And to drive the point home, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s government has come up with hefty fines for rally organisers and participants.

In the new Bill, those found participating in an illegal assembly could be fined up to RM20,000 and the organisers who fail to give sufficient notice could be fined up to RM10,000.

In a nutshell this is what the Peaceful Assembly Bill means. The Bill was tabled in Parliament today by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Abdul Aziz.

In September, Najib announced a slew of reforms including scrapping Section 27 of the Police Act that requires a permit before holding an assembly.

And there was some hope that liberisation was finally taking place in the country. But today when the Peaceful Assembly Bill was tabled, it proved to be draconian than the previous Police Act.

Several political parties and special interest groups were quick to point out that this was just old wine in a new bottle.

Breach of the constitution

Calling it a breach of the constitution, PKR vice-president N Surendran said it was obvious that the Barisan Nasional government is trying to make peaceful assembly difficult for the people.

“Najib’s promises of reforms is a farce. This law is a joke and will make our country the laughing-stock of the world,” he said.

He also said that there was no reason why street protests should be outlawed as such rallies were normal, harmless and an integral part of any functioning democracy.

“It is the job of the police, upon notification, to manage traffic and other matters during rallies. However, in many cases, the police themselves cause traffic congestion by putting up unnecessary road-blocks,” said Surendran.

He added that it was absurd to have a 30 days notice period before anyone could hold a rally, saying even South Africa’s authorities require only seven days notice.

“Must we wait a month if we want to gather and hand over a memorandum to the government? The government is bent to make it difficult for the rakyat to convene any assembly,” he said.

Surendran also said that Section 8 of the new Bill granted wide discretionary powers to the police to stem public assembly and the high fine would serve to deter people from participating in rallies.

Najib a ‘liar’, ‘moderate dictator’

Echoing Surendran’s concerns, Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) secretary-general S Arutchelvan said the new Bill only proved that BN must be voted out as it will never be able to reform.

“I think BN is paranoid of losing power like dictators in the Middle East. The bill is more draconian than Section 27 of the Police Act,” he said.

Calling Najib a liar, the PSM leader said the new Bill is unconstitutional as the Federal Constitution permits all Malaysians to assemble peacefully, irrespective of race, religion, gender and even age.

“The age limit for organising a rally is ridiculous. What if students want to hold an assembly to show solidarity on some issues concerning their well-being?

“In some countries, those aged 15 and 16 are even allowed to work,” said Arutchelvan.

He also alleged that the 30 days notice would be used by the government to get those opposed to the rally to lodge police reports against the organisers.

“And the police will use the reports to stop the assembly, like what they did to Seksualiti Merdeka organisers,” he said.