ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS are concerned by recent attempts by the police to harass protesters and restrict peaceful protests. Such actions are inconsistent with the constitution and Malaysia’s international human rights obligation to respect and protect the right to freedom of expression and assembly. It also makes a mockery of Malaysia’s membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council and the commitments it has made to ensure fundamental freedoms.
On 12 September, a group of around 50 farmers from the state of Perak – supported by Lawan Lapar, a movement aimed at ensuring food security and members of the Malaysian Socialist Party (PSM) – gathered close to parliament to protest against land eviction measures that were affecting their livelihood. They had planned to hand over a memorandum but were blocked by the police. Despite this, they continued and met representatives from the government as well as parliamentarians outside parliament.
Following this, police opened up investigations into the protest under Section 186 of the Penal Code for ‘obstructing civil servants from performing their duties.’ On 18 September, three PSM leaders were hauled up for police questioning, including PSM deputy chairperson S. Arutchelvan, treasurer Soh Sook Hwa and youth member Ayman Hareez. According to reports, the questions asked had nothing to do with what the three were accused of.
Separately, police also tried to block the ‘Save Malaysia’ protest by opposition groups on 16 September against Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA), in his corruption case. The police kept demanding publicly that the organisers ‘apply for permit’ despite the law only requiring the organisers to give notice. Following the peaceful protest – in which around 800 people participated – police said they were going to question at least 25 people under the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 (PAA).
“There is no basis for the police to haul up peaceful protesters for questioning. This is a clear form of harassment and creates a chilling effect for those who want to organise protests. Further, the police must stop demanding that protesters require permission from them to undertake a protest, when all that is required is a notification. Such scare tactics call into question the reformist credentials of the Anwar Ibrahim government and its commitment to respect the right to peaceful assembly” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia Pacific Researcher.
Our organisations remain concerned that the PAA falls short of international human rights law and standards. The law imposes onerous requirements, such as the need to provide detailed information about the planned event and its organisers. Further, anyone who organises an assembly without giving the required notice can be charged with a criminal offence carrying a fine of up to RM10,000 ($2,134 USD).
The PAA also lacks an exception to the notice requirement for spontaneous assemblies where it is not practicable to give advance notice. It also makes it a criminal offence for people under 21 years old to organise an assembly and for children to attend an assembly. Further, non-citizens are also denied the right to organise or participate in protests, which is clearly discriminatory.
In 2024, Malaysia’s human rights record will be reviewed by states at the UN Human Rights Council. During its last Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2019, the government accepted recommendations to ‘amend existing provisions that limit the freedom of expression including the Peaceful Assembly Act.’
“The police force should stop any further harassment against protest organisers and participants. The government must take steps to revise the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 to ensure it is consistent with international law and standards. This includes allowing space for spontaneous protests and removing discriminatory provisions in the law. Ahead of Malaysia’s review at the Human Rights Council in 2024, this would signal that the government is committed to respecting and protecting the right to protest”, said Nalini Elumalai, Senior Malaysia Program officer at ARTICLE 19.
For more information
- Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia Pacific Researcher, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Nalini Elumalai, Senior Malaysia Program Officer, ARTICLE 19, email@example.com