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Rights groups: PAA amendments can be better

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Several human rights organisations say that although the proposed amendments to the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 are noteworthy, the law, when amended, will still fall short of international standards.

Their main complaint is that the amended law will require assembly organisers to give police seven days' prior notice, down from the current 10 days. In contrast, Myanmar legislated a 48-hour notice period in 2011.

In a joint statement today, Pusat Komas and Johannesburg-based Civicus said the seven-day notification period is still not practical, as it does not facilitate spontaneous assemblies.

"Under international law, protests that are organised in rapid response to an unforeseen development and which, in the opinion of participants, cannot be postponed, should not be subjected to prior notification procedures," said the groups.

Pusat Komas and Civicus also objected to the government's decision not to amend the law and allow those under 21 and non-citizens to take part in protests.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) recommended that all criminal penalties for peaceful assemblies should be removed.

"While the proposed amendments would authorise the police to impose a non-criminal financial penalty, rather than formally prosecuting a violator, the exercise of that option would require the public prosecutor's written consent.

"Giving prosecutors discretion means it would still be possible for peaceful protesters to be prosecuted," said the group.

However, all three NGOs lauded the government for some improvements to the law, such as removing wording prohibiting marches.

HRW, in particular, noted that Malaysia has made "significant progress" in its treatment of peaceful protests since the Bersih rallies in 2011 and 2012.

"Malaysia's current government came into office promising to abolish all draconian provisions of the Peaceful Assembly Act and earn global respect for the country’s human rights record," HRW's Asia legal advisor Linda Lakhdhir said.

"To achieve this, the government needs to revise the assembly bill to remove all criminal penalties, allow spontaneous protests and permit children and non-citizens to peacefully protest without fear of prosecution."

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