Parliament passes bill to decriminalise street protests

By ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN & DASHVEENJIT KAUR / Pic By TMR

THE Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 (PAA), which seeks to decriminalise street demonstrations and protest marches, was approved by a simple majority voice vote after a six-hour debate in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday.

Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin (picture) said the matter had taken considerations from all stakeholders including the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) and Lawyers for Liberty to decriminalise street demonstrations which is currently regulated under the PAA.

There are sufficient provisions to handle demonstrations if things go out of control, he said in his winding-up speech.

Muhyiddin said this in response to concerns that amendments to the existing Act may lead to violent street demonstrations, mirroring what had recently took place in Hong Kong.

The amendment follows a change in government policy to uphold the right to assemble peacefully and without arms, including the right to organise or participate in a street protest as long as it does not jeopardise security and public order.

The amendments to Sections 3, 4 and 21 of the Act would see the term “street protest” omitted from several provisions.

Under Section 3 of the Act, a street protest is defined as an assembly involving marching to protest against or advance a cause.

Currently, Section 4 only allows stationary peaceful assemblies and rallies which do not extend to a street protest.

However, the bill maintains that if a street protest results in disturbance, violence or criminal activities, it could be tackled under existing laws such as the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code.

The bill also sought to amend Section 9 of the PAA to shorten the notification period for holding an assembly from 10 days to five days before the date of the gathering.

Meanwhile, Suhakam welcomed the decision to amend the Act, given that certain provisions in the law appear to limit the right to assemble peacefully publicly or privately to collectively express, promote, pursue and defend common interests which is a fundamental human right.

In a statement, Suhakam applauded the deletion of “street protest” in Section 3, 4 and 21 of the PAA.

The right to peaceful assembly is not limited to stationary protests, but also includes processions, marches and other forms of peaceful demonstrations, it noted.

However, the commission said the amendment to Section 9 of the Act to shorten the notification period of an assembly can be further improved as countries such as France require only a notification period of three days, whereas Sweden requires notification depending on the type of assembly.