The BN MPs voted in the Peaceful Assembly Bill 2011 without any Opposition MPs who walked out during the debate.
At the same time, there were over 2,000 lawyers protesting the passing of the bill asking for the bill to be withdrawn. On Saturday, over 300 people gathered peacefully at the KLCC park to protest this same Bill.
But after all that’s said and done, 29 November 2011 will go down in history of Malaysia as a very sad day because the freedom guaranteed to every Malaysian in the Constitution of Malaysia has just been severely curbed.
The Constitutional of Malaysia in Article 10 states that “all citizens have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms“. For a complete reading of the Constitution, you can download the PDF copy here. We Malaysians have a constitutional right to freedom to assemble peaceably but there are also provisions in the Constitution for the Parliament to impose restrictions to this freedom.
However, today, the restriction to this freedom has been passed by Parliament to the peril of the future generations of Malaysians. The insistence of the PM and the Umno MPs is quite alarming and the company of MCA, Gerakan, MIC, etc. have abetted the high speed passing of the damning Bill.
Some of the pertinent points that Malaysians will not be able to do freely are:
- General Protest – not only a notice must be made, there is 48 hours for anyone to protest the planned protest and hence, can be rejected. The stadium operators also can reject for various reasons true or otherwise. Look at the Bersih 2.0 application for the use of Merdeka Stadium. Basically, anyone who is planning to protest has to jump through imaginary hoops and if you are from the Opposition, chances are you will jump into a black hole while the protests by BN friendly parties can get approvals in record time.
- Embassies – strangely, it is excluded from the very long list of prohibited places to assemble. However, if the embassy is within 50m of these prohibited places, it is safe. This exclusion implies that there may come a time when protests will be permitted especially around the US Embassy where it is not near any prohibited places. Embassies, beware!
- Street Protest – there will no longer be allowed any protests on roads that is under the jurisdiction of the state. So where in the world does the Government expect protests to be held? Inside a private compound and keep it to yourself? What would Jaffar Onn feel if he was stiffled at his time like this? We may not even have an independence from the British. Tomorrow, you may protest but don’t step onto any state managed roads.
- House parties – now you will have to apply for approval before you have a party in your house unless it is a Birthday Party or a Wedding Party which will be exempted from giving notice. Anything else you want to celebrate will be considered illegal unless you have given notice 10 days ahead of time and your neighbors do not object to it.
- Family gatherings – families can no longer invite friends to such gatherings as the friends are not exempted from this Act to give notice and obtain approval. Certainly, it may be debated if families can include family friends but will rest with the Police and the Home Minister. Otherwise, a family gathering with friends can turn out to be a 10,000 strong ceramah to celebrate Anwar’s birthday everyday.
- Under 21 years old people are not full Malaysian citizens – the Bill restricts people under 21 years old to participate or organize (4(2)(d)&(e)). They are to stay at home and not bother about the country they live in because they have NO right to protest even though they are citizens of Malaysia. This discrimination is ridiculous. Since they can’t vote, they can’t protest.
If you take a look at the 3rd Schedule concerning “Assemblies for which notification is not required“, it presents a very interesting loop hole indeed.
This section states the following assemblies that are exempted:
- Religious assemblies
- Funeral processions
- Wedding receptions
- Open houses during festivities
- Family gatherings
- Family day held by an employer for the benefit of his employees and their families
- General meetings of societies or associations
If you follow my trend of thought, you can soon tell that future protest will all look like one or more of the above list.
Can you imagine that the moment approvals are not granted for whatever reason, there will be newly concocted festivities and instant open houses happening all over the place. A ceramah will turn out to be a wedding reception with no bride or groom appearing but lots of speeches!
In fact, candlelight vigils will be a religious assembly of sorts (arguably) where Malaysians come together to pray for the protection and well being of fellow Malaysians. And these are conducted at the open fields, not on the road.
Now, if 30,000 people happen to come together “by accident” around the city and walk towards Stadium Merdeka for a day of prayer to ask the Almighty to grant wisdom to the Government for a clean and fair election, will this be considered a religious assembly exempted by this Act or a street protest?
Future ceramahs will become religious in nature to pray for the health and prosperity of the country and sprinkled with a generous dose of “words of wisdom” from “special” speakers.
We can expect continuous protests by all sorts of organizations and non-organizations against the gazetting of the Act. It is a matter of time when the Act is gazetted now that it has been passed but the protest will grow bigger and louder each time because our future freedom is practically gone!
Tomorrow, when you want to protest against the State Government for some bizarre policy, you have to go to the beach because you have to comply not to be on the state roads and to avoid property owners not granting you the use of the premises. There you can shout to the wind till you are hoarse! I really can’t imagine Umno Youth and Khairy doing this.
Frankly, most Malaysians do not understand the need to have such an Act which compares worse than the recent Myanmar Act and Myanmar is not known for their freedom of their citizens. It appears Malaysia is regressing rather than progressing and if this is they type of democracy that Najib so proudly touted as the “model democracy“, we can be sure what to do at the next General Election. Malaysia will become a case study of what NOT to do to your citizens of any country.
Malaysians, you now have freedom to assemble which you can never get approval for because the conditions are many and hard to fulfill and approvals are usually given to BN friendly parties. Freedom to assemble for the rest is now only a figment of imagination!
This is indeed a sad day for Malaysia and the future generations!