Malaysian Senate Passes Peaceful Assembly Bill

The Malaysian Senate’s passage of the Peaceful Assembly Bill on December 20 is an alarming indication of backsliding in freedom of assembly and expression in Malaysia. Despite civil society’s repeated calls for the immediate withdrawal of the draft law, the Senate passed the law, which restricts public demonstrations, freedom of assembly and expression, and thus impedes the ability of citizens to engage in inclusive political participation. As the country prepares for upcoming elections, the Malaysian government must protect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly as guaranteed under international human rights laws. 

The right to peaceful assembly in Malaysia is guaranteed under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).  However the Peaceful Assembly Bill will ban street protests and give police arbitrary powers, including the authority to shut down demonstrations and arrest participants.  The bill was introduced November 22 after the Malaysian government promised to incorporate reforms following July 2011’s brutal crackdown on protests organized by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Berish 2.0). Freedom House issued a statement condemning the Bersih 2.0 crackdown and calling on Malaysian authorities to respect citizens’ right to freedom of assembly.  Bersih— an alliance of civil society organizations – campaigned for electoral reforms, transparency in government, and an end to the rampant corruption that taints Malaysian politics. More than 1,500 people were arrested during the rally, including nine prominent human rights activists and opposition party figures; some of the leaders were subsequently released.

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