Nazri: Peaceful Assembly Bill will be passed on Tuesday

By Hemananthani Sivanandam, The Sun

The controversial Peaceful Assembly Bill 2011, which the government has agreed to amend, will be debated at committee level before being voted on in the Dewan Rakyat on Tuesday.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said there will be eight amendments to the bill and that MPs could bring their proposals for consideration.

“The (tabling of the) second reading has been done (last Thursday by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak) so we will debate it at the committee level in Parliament on Tuesday and it will be voted upon.

“All MPs are welcome to bring their suggestions and if it is okay, we will include it,” Nazri told theSun when contacted.

Asked to comment on plans by the Malaysia Bar Council which plans to organise a Walk for Freedom 2011: Peaceful Assembly Bill cannot and must not become law! on Tuesday, Nazri said the council is free to go ahead with it.

“It’s not my problem. They have to talk to the police but I can assure that it is not going to change in any way.

“The bill has been tabled, will be debated and be passed on Tuesday,” he stressed.

Nazri, who is also Padang Renggas MP lambasted Bar Council President Lim Chee Wee and his former counterpart Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan for organising the walk.

“We will accommodate any amendments (to the bill). That shows we listen to the people. I would suggest to Chee Wee to register the Bar Council as a political party and stand for elections.

“It is easier if they register as a political party, rather than hide under the pretext of an NGO,” he said, before quipping that either Ambiga or Lim should stand in his constituency.

It was reported on Saturday that the government will carry out eight amendments to the bill, including amending the controversial Section 9(1) which makes it mandatory for an organiser to give a 30-day notification to the police prior to holding an assembly in an undesignated venue.

Nazri said the 30-day notification is deemed to be too lengthy and the Cabinet decided to shorten it to 10 days.

“The 10-day notification is required because the police will need to engage with the people involved in these undesignated areas.

“For an example, if someone wants to have an assembly in front of (DAP stalwart) Lim Kit Siang’s home, we certainly need to ask him because he’s the house owner so that requires time.

“Also, people cannot simply pick places where they want to demonstrate. What if there is a counter-demonstration? This requires (organisers) to inform the police to protect them because suddenly, if a fight breaks out and the police is not notified then the people will blame the police,” said Nazri.

He however said that people are free to demonstrate at any time at designated areas.

“For example at Padang Merbok, it’s a designated place, so people can go ahead…no problem,” he added.

Nazri said following the amendments to Section 9(1), other amendments will also be made to four other sections, which involved timeline of notification such as to parties with interests and appeal to the Home Minister.

He added that the government also supported the proposed amendments to Sections 6(2)(b), 7(a)(iii) and 21(1)(c) which involves the removal of the word “discontent” from them.

“The Cabinet feels that we need to drop that word, the fact that people assemble shows that they are unhappy about something so we have decided to drop that word,” said Nazri.

Meanwhile the Bar Council said it would continue with its Walk for Freedom on Tuesday.

Bar Council President Lim told theSun whilst it is “mildly positive” that the government is considering the provisions to the bill, the reduction of the length of time for various notices required under the Bill and omission of the word ‘discontent’ reflects what is fundamentally wrong with the process of the bill

“It is being rushed with unholy haste into law without adequate public consultation. There is no good reason why this Bill cannot go through the same process of a Parliamentary Select Committee as electoral reforms — both are important constitutional rights,” Lim said.

He also said that according to media reports, the Cabinet is adamant about prohibiting assemblies in motion or processions, except for existing provision on funeral processions.

“This is outrageous! From our research, we know not of any other jurisdictions, which prohibit processions.

“The government cannot now rob us of this right of assemblies in motion which is presently not prohibited in the Police Act.

“The present prohibition of procession robs us of a right which presently exists under section 27 of the Police Act which regulates “assemblies, meetings and processions,” he said.

Lim said in the United Kingdom, 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 given unless it is not reasonably practicable to give any advance notice.

“In Finland, only 6 hours is required. Even Myanmar now has a Peaceful Assembly and Procession Bill which allows peaceful assembly and procession by holding flags with prior permission from the authorities five days in advance,” he added.