Govt tables bill to allow street protests

Amendments to the Peaceful Assembly Act have been tabled under which street protests will no longer be an offence.

KUALA LUMPUR: Street protests will no longer be an offence under the Peaceful Assembly Act if an amendment to the act, tabled in the Dewan Rakyat today, receives approval.

The amendment bill, tabled by Deputy Home Minister Mohd Azis Jamman, also seeks to shorten the notice period for organisers to inform the police of their intention to hold a protest.

A new section provides the police with the power to compound an offence with a fine of not more than RM5,000, instead of prosecuting offenders.

The changes involve Sections 3, 4 and 21 of the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012.

An explanatory note to the bill states that the amendment is in line with a change in government policy to uphold the right to assemble peacefully without arms, including the right to organise or participate in a street protest as long as it does not jeopardise security and public order.

Should a street protest result in disturbance, violence or criminal activities, the offence could be tackled under existing laws such as the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code, the bill said.

Section 9 of the Act is to be amended, shortening the notice period from 10 days to seven days before the date of the gathering.

In a media interview today, Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said it was up to the public to ensure that rallies be peaceful.

“If they say it would be a peaceful street protest, then that is what it should be in the spirit of the law. But what happens when it turns out to be rowdy, rough and a lot of other things, then other laws would have to come in,” he was quoted as saying.

“So we will depend much on the people and organisers of the peaceful demonstration… we are giving them the freedom and I think Malaysians should laud this move which would make things easier for them.”

Muhyiddin said two committees were formed to look into the amendments of several laws. “There is a lot of process… there was consultation with many bodies including the Bar Council, the Lawyers for Liberty, and others. We have roped in many people before we made the decision,” he said.

Two other bills were tabled in the House today: the Youth Societies and Youth Development (Amendment) Bill 2019 and the Consumer Protection (Amendment) Bill 2019.

The Youth Societies and Youth Development (Amendment) Bill 2019 seeks, among other things, to lower the maximum age limit in the definition of youth to 30, and to provide for the minimum and maximum age limits of the head and office-bearers of a youth society.

The Consumer Protection (Amendment) Bill 2019 aims, among other things, to increase the punishments which may be imposed on any person who fails to comply with an award made by the Tribunal.