The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) is against the new proposed Bill as it is restrictive, repressive and against freedom of assembly and against freedom of religion, two sacred fundamental rights guaranteed by the federal constitution.
The proposed Bill clearly gives the police and the home minister more powers and is aimed at stifling democratic space.
MCCBCHST is particularly concerned that the new Bill now specifies places where public assembly cannot be held and they include all places of worship, hospitals, train stations, public transport terminals, kindergartens, schools and many others. This proposed provision in the Bill goes against the letter and spirit of Article 11 of the federal constitution which guarantees freedom of religion.
MCCBCHST is also against the following provision in the Peaceful Assemblv Bill 2011, whose title appears to mislead people into not knowing the true nature of amendments:
- The bill appears to ban all demonstration including peaceful processions, unless approved by the police
- Notification period of 10 days to police is too long. lt does not recognise the right to spontaneous assembly when an important and urgent issue arise.
- The removal of the requirement to obtain police permit is illusory as the assembly cannot proceed if Police object. On notification of the proposed assembly, the police are to reply within 10 days listing conditions including whether could proceed. Thus the assemblv is still dependant on police approval
- lf the police refuse permission, then Bill provides for appeal to Home Minister. This is not acceptable. The appeal should be to the court.
- Processions and peaceful assemblies should be distinguished from street protests. The Bill must reflect this.
- The police have been too much power to impose restrictions and set up conditions to hold gathering including duration of event, participant's conduct and cleaning up costs. The Bill also gives the final say to refuse gathering on ground of cultural or religious sensitivity.
While governments all over the world are opening up democratic space, we appear to be back tracking. Even, Burma which has the military junta governing the country, has now passed a "protest bill" which allows citizens to protest peacefully.
The Burma Bill only requires demonstrators to inform authorities five days in advance and advises them to avoid government buildings, hospitals and embassies (The Sun, Nov 25). Our bill is a far cry from this Burma Bill.
We urge the government to listen to the many objections legitimately voiced and earnestly hope that the Bill would not be rushed through our Dewan Negara.
Finally, the MCCBCHST calls on all leaders of all faiths to dedicate every Friday, from December 2 to pray in their respective places of worship that the leaders of our nation have it in their hearts and minds to find the understanding, truth, respect, compassion and most of all, the wisdom, to withdraw the Peaceful Assembly Bill 2011 and engage all stakeholders.