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Malaysia’s government is under rising pressure to abandon a law which would ban street protests. Reproducing On Air highlights’ (via ABC Radio Australia) post on Edmund Bon‘s discussion with presenter, Sen Lam on 29 November 2011 here.
The proposed law to regulate public demonstrations has prompted lawyers, opposition leaders and rights groups to accuse the ruling National Front coalition of cracking down on freedom of assembly ahead of general elections widely expected next year.
And later this morning, the main lawyers’ group, the Malaysian Bar Council, will march on Parliament against the Peaceful Assembly Bill.
It follows another rally over the weekend at Kuala Lumpur’s iconic Twin Towers.
Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Edmund Bon, human rights lawyer and lead campaigner at the Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism & Human Rights
BON: It’s very clear that our constitution in Article 10 provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly without arms, and any legislation must augment that right and not restrict it. So this piece of legislation shocks us because instead of strengthening that right, there is an outright ban on cause-based protests, there’s an outright ban on protesting in certain places. There is an outright ban on certain people, certain ages from going out to take part in protests. So we’re very shocked that the government has done this.
LAM: Edmund but the government in recent days has also shown that it’s willing to make concessions. For instance it’s reducing the application period for a police permit to much less than a month, and also it’s repealed two security laws, included the dreaded ISA, the Internal Security Act. It’s also lifted the ban on university students taking part in politics. Many people would see these as huge concessions compared to the Mahathir years?
BON: We have to look at the particular issues, I think for the Freedom of Assembly Bill the amendments that they’ve made, the eight amendments which they’re planning to make today, just scratches the surface. The outright ban on cause-based protests is still there, the notification period may have been shortened, but places where we can conduct protests are still very limited. So in that respect we are protesting that bill today. It’s quite clear that they have not considered the main issues which we want them to, and clearly the law is still very much against the rights under the constitution. In as far as the ISA and emergency of course emergency has been lifted, it takes six months to come into effect. That’s something that we welcome, but we’re very concerned about the two new laws that will be coming into force, we have not been consulted on those bills. So we have to wait and see. Again the University and University Colleges Act legislation we’ve not seen the new bill as well, in recent times what the government says doesn’t really play out in action. So we just have to wait and see on those things.
LAM: And Edmund lawyers in Kuala Lumpur are planning to march on Parliament House this morning. Are you flouting the law, did you apply for a police permit?
BON: Well the Malaysian Bar Council is very clear in our position, the Police Act which provides that you need to apply for a police permit is to us and to our mind unconstitutional. So we have not applied for a permit even for the Walk for Justice which we did in 2007. We will not apply for a permit again, we believe it’s our right to assemble peacefully and walk peacefully and we will continue to do that even if the new law stands in parliament to be passed. We are not violent people, we are peace-loving people and it will take a few hours just to handover a memorandum, and we see no problem in that.
LAM: How many people are you expecting this morning?
BON: We are looking at, it’s a working day of course but the government is pushing the bill through today, so we have had no choice but to call for the protest, it was a public holiday yesterday. We’re looking at probably 500 to 1,000.
LAM: And Edmund just briefly the Kuala Lumpur authorities from where I sit seem to be showing quite a bit of tolerance. The electoral reform group, Bersih, gathered at KLCC on the weekend, the Twin Towers, and now this. Are you surprised that no one’s been arrested so far?
BON: I think it would just fly in the face of what the Prime Minister has spoken about, about freeing our country from this democratic shackles or problems, so I think they are quite smart that they do not want to arrest or harass protesters for doing what we feel is necessary citizen action. So I think it’s a good thing, I think it will progress and we hope that today’s spirit, that the authorities have taken, these type of protests will continue today on the streets of parliament.