Friday, November 25, 2011

Peaceful Assembly Act 2011 - Caveats and Thoughts

Thankfully, there was an online scanned copy of the draft act which appeared in Malaysiakini, in which I managed to scrutinized the entire bill. Though it was entirely in Malay language, I was able to understand the contents and identified some of the content in which drew the ire of many civil societies and opposition parties. Having read that, there are some caveats from the existing bills that continues to go on and if the bill is being bulldozed just because of the numbers factor (passed by simple majority), then the fears of many parties would be true.

The Caveats:

1. Almost everything is impossible and not permitted. 

Many have forgotten of the history of how UMNO came to existence in 1946. It required a street demonstration led by the late Onn Jaafar (Hishamuddin's very own grandfather) against the English to get their attention and subsequently the cancellation of the Malayan Union. By saying that street protests are not allowed in this case, it also implies that UMNO has also forgotten how it came to existence. Were such laws in place came in 1946, the party will not have existed and subsequently, we would not be in the current landscape as of now. 

Section 4(1) and 4(2) mentions elements of what is not allowed in an assembly including specific participants and restricted locations. The problem on locations is how do you consider a location, base on the geographical factor to be considered as a restriction area? That is one. Another one is dealing with on the case of an arrested person being from a country that ratifies the UN human rights declaration. For instance, if an European is arrested over a case of participation of an assembly, does that mean that as part of the welfare of the citizen arrested, will they have to interject and fill in the paper work to say that he / she is protected in the native country's rights?

Does going to the embassy or the palace to make a statement considered as a street rally? I find it a little illogical to call that as an act of offense under 4(2). Rather than making things tedious in section 4 and since it goes against the intentions of the Reid Commission-drafted Constitution, it might be more appropriate to say that street demos are alright with exceptions to (insulting the Agong, challenging the official religion, etc), whatever that has been defined in the basic articles and establishments of the constitution.

2. It's not about the permit. It's the hassles and restrictions

Reading sections 9, 10 and 14 was somewhat related to this caveat. To say that to notify someone from the police office of an event 30 days ahead is somewhat hints of the inefficiency of the police side. It also contradicts one of the police slogans of "Mesra, Cepat dan Betul" we used to here many years before. In other countries, similar scenarios will only take between 5 to 10 days for arrangement. Myanmar has just beat us to it. 5 days instead of 30..what does that mean?

The main doubt on Section 10 is primarily about the time taken to make the arrangement. It's like the time taken for Frodo to journey from the Shire to Mount Doom rather than the time taken to walk into a 7-Eleven store and buy ice-cream. Apart from filling up the details, well it may take a few hours at the police station / snails pace to have the officer in charge fill in the details, ask this party, ask the other party and so forth before saying yes to your thing. Since we also face complaints of a slow response like for example after filing a complaint, we might as well do it away with Section 14.

3. At The Whim of Minister and Superior Police officer

If I am to summarize the whole thing after reading 15(2), 20 and 21, the thing is that if uncontrolled, the police - with certain zealous officers in particular - can act at their own whim. It's nothing more or less the same situation as seen in the Bersih 9 July rally. First hand accounts of how the police handled the case on the ground would tell you that. 

There also have been cases where a permit has been issued but due to pressure from the other political parties, the permit was cancelled either at the last minute or cases of a permit refused for an excuse of security of safety but instead it is merely a ruse to score brownie points in NKRA.

Someone asked me recently why not of the bill and this is one caveat I would say it.

Likewise, as for the Minister, being the custodian of the bill, he / she at whim can decide, amend or change whatever locations that are considered to be forbidden to be used if the bill comes to effect. For this, 25(1) and 27 is somewhat inter-related in context to Sections 8 and 9.

Some Thoughts

1. Someone told me of quote from AC Grayling that "people are cowed into giving up their individual freedom rights (as enshrined and empowered by the Federal Constitution) to the authorities as part of giving them more authoritative powers in the name of national security". This is what is happening and a big fear for many civil societies particularly when the bill comes into effect soon. It's worse when it's being bulldozed all the way to gazetting phase.

2. The view of freedom and civil liberties to some people are pretty narrow. In fact Malaysia still remains in the guided-democracy state. This means that only a select group decides what is acceptable and can be said and what cannot be said / done. I often notice how some people talk like in that manner, I would think that they are foaming in their mouths.

3. Actually there is nothing new and substantial of having this bill It's merely a separation of Section 27 of the Police Act, expanded to become an independent bill but the difference is that of permit requirement. As I have said earlier, permit or not is not very important but the restrictions are. I often see the new restrictions like being in school. For instance, in the past, if you are to go to the washroom, you would ask the teacher permission to go at anytime you feel uncomfortable. Suppose if there is a ruling that students are only allowed to go to toilet from 3.15 pm to 3.30 pm, does that sound more restrictive to you or what?

4. I don't understand why there are certain quarters so hasty of having the bill. It's not about the argument of "we know best" or fulfilling your goal of reform, but as the bill will be debated next Tuesday, there should be more time for potential stakeholders to say yes or no. As of now, we have almost many societies that say no, so I was thinking, why they desperate in their hidden motive of whacking the those who oppose them kingdom come? I often think that the ulterior motive of the bill is to strip a person's individual freedom entitled rather than seeing the real civil liberty that should be.

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