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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bar Council offers alternative assembly bill, to lead protest march


November 29, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 29 — Hours before the Dewan Rakyat is to debate the controversial Peaceful Assembly Bill that Datuk Seri Najib Razak claims has been twisted by the opposition, the Bar Council completed its draft of the proposed law it said it will submit for consideration today.

Malaysian Bar president Lim Chee Wee will also be leading a protest march to Parliament from the Lake Gardens down the road at 11.30am today to hand over a copy of the alternative proposal.

Malaysian Bar president Lim Chee Wee will be leading a protest march to Parliament from the Lake Gardens today to hand over its alternative draft of the proposed law. — file pic
In an open letter yesterday, the lawyer urged lawmakers on both sides of the political divide to reject the prime minister’s proposed law which Lim has described as an “unjust law made in haste ... which will impose unreasonable and disproportionate fetters on freedom of assembly”.

In an explanatory statement attached to the alternative bill, the Bar Council said the government approached the right of peaceful assembly from a very limited and restrictive point that is not in line with international norms, nor current developments around the world on basic rights to which Malaysians aspired.

“The Bar Council’s draft Bill is intended to promote and facilitate the freedom of the right of peaceful assembly,” it said, noting that the government’s proposed law, though it was a small improvement in certain limited aspects, “continues to constrict the space for freedom of peaceful assembly that the Malaysian people ought to have.”

It noted the government’s proposed law banned street protests, or as he termed it assemblies in motion, “which no other progressive jurisdiction does”.

The Bar Council noted that the government’s proposed law puts “excessive powers and control” in the hands of the police while imposing heavy duties on the part of the organiser and assembly participants.

It said such a provision was “unacceptable” because it allowed the police “to be its own judge and jury on matters relating to freedom of assembly.”

One of the major initiatives the Bar Council introduced in its alternative five-part proposal is the creation of an independent 25-member Peaceful Assembly Board and an appeal panel.

Among the key issues addressed in the Bar Council’s draft is a more detailed, alternative explanation of what constitutes a “public assembly”.

It explained that a “public assembly” means “an assembly or gathering of more than 50 persons, held in a public place, whether or not the assembly is at a particular place or moving, and includes an election campaign”.

It also defined public places as including a road and other non-privately owned locations so that a “public assembly” would include street demonstrations.

The Bar Council version also dealt with the advance notice required by the authorities before a demonstration is held.

It noted demonstrators were now required to give a five-day advance notification to the police, who had 48 hours, or two days, to respond.

It suggested that offences under the proposed law be capped at a fine of RM5,000 with no jail time required.

Najib has said the opposition had twisted the meaning of a maximum 30-day notice period, which is six times longer than a similar law in Myanmar, once the region's most reclusive and oppressive communist state.

The prime minister has now said the government will reduce the notice period to just 10 days for protests in non-designated areas but the proposed law remains the subject of much criticism.

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