They say it provides for greater democracy as it allows everyone to voice their views without having to seek permission from the police.
Kota Belud MP Rahman Dahlan told FMT that the Bill was “one of the best laws” which he has seen.
“The law clearly states that the police cannot stop anyone from demonstrating. In Section 27 of the Police Act, it is clearly stated that police have the authority to reject your application.
“But that is not the case with this bill. You don’t need to ask police’s permission. That is the fundamental difference in this bill.
“It gives more democratic space, without hindering anyone from having a dissenting voice,” said the Umno MP.
He added that the bill merely inserts restrictions in order to preserve the rights of others in society, but overall it guarantees the right of people to be heard.
“If you want to hold an assembly in front of my shop, of course the police have to check with me and ask my permission. I have my rights as the shopowner as well,” he said.
Malaysia is still a society where the majority of the people are not receptive to dissenting views, hence the need for certain limitations to the freedom as prescribed in the bill, added the MP.
“In our society, as much as we want more democratic space, we still are not able to handle dissent comfortably.
“If some say I’m wrong, the majority of the people still can’t afford that and they may react violently,” he said.
Calling the bill a “good development”, former home minister Syed Hamid Albar said that the police, however, would have to be more alert with the stipulations made in the new bill.
Heated debate expected
Syed Hamid said that certain aspects of the bill, nevertheless, still need to be looked into and clarified further.
“It says no street demonstration but it doesn’t say how many people make up a crowd to be counted as a street protest.
“The enforcement of the law also has to be very strict with this bill. One section states that non- citizens cannot gather in a crowd. How can you tell who are the foreigners? So the police would have to be more watchful,” said the Kota Tinggi MP.
Dewan Rakyat deputy speaker Wan Junaidi Jaafar said that the law “balanced” the right of the individuals who wish to protest and the rights of others.
“It is not just the right of the people organising the procession but also the rights of bystanders that must be taken into account… so this says you cannot have it on the streets because it is infringing on the rights of others,” said the Santubong MP.
He added that the right to assemble was discussed in England as well, particularly pertaining to the trade-off between the rights of the state to preserve public order and the rights of the individual.
“When the state’s rights exist, the individual rights have to be subservient to the rights of the state, which will affect the security of the country. The bill is a balance and creates a relaxed atmosphere,” said Wan Junaidi.
Opposition MPs have voiced their disappointment over the bill, calling it “old wine in a new bottle” which places more restrictions on civil liberty.
The bill which was tabled for the first reading yesterday will be debated today and a heated exchange is likely to unfold.