Malaysia: Investigation of women’s march violates freedom of expression

Malaysia: Investigation of women’s march violates freedom of expression - Civic Space

On 12 March 2023, some 300 people, including human rights defenders and civil society groups, took to the streets in Kuala Lumpur to commemorate International Women’s Day. Following the march, the Dang Wangi district police headquarters Criminal Investigation Division announced it opened an investigation into 7 individuals, including organisers, speakers, and participants under Section 9(5) of the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 and Section 14 of the Minor Offences Act 1995. ARTICLE 19 strongly condemns the Malaysian government’s response to the International Women’s Day march for undermining the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

In a statement issued ahead of the march, organisers had listed nine demands, including an end to sexual and gender-based violence, protection of bodily autonomy, prohibition of child marriage, equal pay, constitutional and legislative reforms for greater gender equity, and equal political participation for oppressed genders at all levels of governance.

Nalini Elumalai, Senior Malaysia Programme Officer at ARTICLE 19, said:

“It is deeply disappointing that the new government seems to be resorting to tactics used by its predecessor to restrict peaceful demonstrations. The right to freedom of expression is integral to the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of assembly and association, guaranteed in Article 10 of the Malaysian Federal Constitution. The government and police are obligated to respect, protect and fulfil the right to protest, and should establish an enabling environment for the full enjoyment of this right.

The right to freedom of peaceful assembly also extends to the expression of ideas that may be considered controversial or that are not necessarily favourably received by the government or the majority of the population. This right is also guaranteed regardless of the sexual orientation or gender identity of the participants and protects expression related to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.

We urge the authorities to immediately and unconditionally drop all investigations into organisers and participants who have exercised their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and to stop any further harassment against organisers and participants.”

The Malaysian government has frequently used the Peaceful Assembly Act to intimidate protestors and discourage public participation.

The Peaceful Assembly Act obstructs the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in Malaysia’s Constitution and protected under its international obligations. The imposition under the law that organisers must notify authorities five days prior to any gathering is overly burdensome. Those who fail to comply with the law’s requirements face fines of up to RM 10,000 (approximately USD 2,232). The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and association has stated that notice periods should not be longer than 48 hours and that notice should only be required for large or disruptive assemblies.


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Nalini Elumalai, Senior Malaysia Programme Officer