Walk For Freedom 2011: Peaceful Assembly Bill Cannot And Must Not Become Law!

By Lim Chee Wee, Malaysian Bar Council President
Martin Luther King Jr once said that “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

The Malaysian Bar and indeed Malaysia is now facing such a moment of challenge and controversy — an objectionable Bill, being rushed into law with unseemly haste without adequate public consultation, which effectively robs the rakyat of our constitutional right to freedom of assembly.

This Peaceful Assembly Bill (“Bill”) is far more restrictive than the current law.  It is not a piece of legislation which we, as lawyers, can watch enter our statute books without standing up against it.  It is not a piece of legislation which we want future generations to inherit, without us walking, and spending every ounce of our energy to oppose.  If this piece of legislation makes it to the statute books, future generations would inherit a nation that is far from modern and progressive.
Members of the Bar are now called upon to march to object to this Bill.  The walk will take place next Tuesday, 29 Nov 2011, from the entrance of the Royal Lake Club to Parliament House, to deliver the Bar’s Proposed Amendments to the Peaceful Assembly Bill to YB Datuk Liew Vui Keong, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.  Members are advised to gather in their court attire at 11:30 am outside the Royal Lake Club entrance.
The Prime Minister, in his eve of Malaysia Day 2011 speech, had promised that:
… long gone is the era in which the government knows everything and claims monopoly over wisdom …
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 … (emphasis added) 
… a Malaysia that practices [sic] a functional and inclusive democracy … in accordance with the supremacy of the Constitution, rule of law and respect for basic human rights and individual rights.
This Bill is not in line with international norms because of, amongst others:
(1) Prohibition of street protests (defined widely as “open air assembly which begins with a meeting at a specified place and consists of walking in a mass march or rally for the purpose of objecting to or advancing a particular cause or causes”);
(2)  Prohibition of organisation of assemblies by persons below the age of twenty one years;
(3)  Prohibition of participation in peaceful assemblies of children below the age of fifteen years; 
(4)  Unduly onerous responsibilities and restrictions on organisers and assemblies; and
(5)  Excessive fines for non-compliance of the Bill.
Therefore this Bill is not “in accordance with the supremacy of the Constitution, rule of law and respect for basic human rights and individual rights”, which the Prime Minister promised it would be.
The Bill is in its second reading in the Dewan Rakyat, and in all likelihood it will be passed after the third reading.  We must remain hopeful that we can make a difference, through our Walk for Freedom.  We must urge the Prime Minister to amend the Bill by way of public consultation to ensure that Malaysia will have a legislation in the public interest, which truly upholds, protects and promotes our constitutional right to freedom of assembly.
We feel let down by how far short this Bill falls in relation to what the Malaysian people were promised in the Prime Minister’s Malaysia Day 2011 message.  In short, the Prime Minister must walk his own talk.
Please click on the links below to view the:
(1)  Bar Council press release entitled “Peaceful Assembly Bill is more restrictive than present law and must be improved” issued on 22 Nov 2011;
(2)   Bar Council press release entitled “Broken promise: Prime Minister has not lived up to Malaysia Day 2011 pledge; and  
Please contact Gayathiri Paneerselvam, Officer, by telephone at 03-2050 2089 or by email at [email protected], should you have any queries. 
I call on all Members to support us in this crucial initiative.  See you on Tuesday, let’s walk!
Lim Chee Wee
Malaysian Bar