Human Rights Watch has reiterated its urging for Malaysian authorities to drop charges against rally-goers, particularly eight activists and opposition politicians who participated in Kita Lawan rallies early last year.
HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said this as he noted that the Federal Court will hear a constitutional challenge on street protest ban on Oct 10.
"Malaysia’s blanket ban on street marches is legal overreach that betrays government paranoia about organised protests," he said in statement.
The charges against these politicians and activists were filed under Malaysia’s overly restrictive Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA), which banned "street protest", Robertson said.
He argued that the right to peaceful assembly is not limited to static protests, but also protects processions and other forms of "moving".
"By prohibiting all kinds of marches, PAA imposes an unlawful restriction on the right to peacefully assemble that is recognised under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights treaties.
"However the Federal Court rules, the government should return to the drawing board and enact a law that respects the right to peaceful assembly," Robertson (photo) said.
Besides prominent opposition party officers, he noted, most of those charged were leaders or organisers of the peaceful Bersih 4 rally.
"Demonstrators urged the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, and institutional reform to end government corruption.
"Peaceful marches and street protests are a legitimate way of expressing dissent and should not be the basis of criminal charges," Robertson said.
"However, the Federal Court rules, the government should return to the drawing board and enact a law that respects the right to peaceful assembly.
"The Malaysian government should immediately drop the charges against all the Kita Lawan protesters and amend the Peaceful Assembly Act to comply with international standards," he stressed.
Bersih chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah, PKR Bayan Baru MP Sim Tze Tzin and seven others were charged under PAA in Sept 2015 over Kita Lawan rallies.
Other included PKR Teja assemblyperson Chang Lih Kang, Semambu assemblyperson Lee Chean Chung, Jingga 13 leader Fariz Musa, activists Mandeep Singh, Adam Adli and Rozan Azen Mat Rasip, aide to PKR Batu MP Tian Chua.
Maria was charged under PAA for failing to give the 10-day notice to cops for holding Bersih 4. Her charge was later quashed in the Court of Appeal.