Stop scare tactics against peaceful protests, Putrajaya told

Two international civil society groups are calling on Putrajaya to stop harassing protesters and peaceful demonstrations. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, September 21, 2023.

TWO international civil society groups have called on Putrajaya to stop harassing protesters and peaceful demonstrations.

Article 19 and Civicus said they were concerned by recent attempts by the authorities on such matters.

“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, 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 Civicus Asia Pacific researcher Josef Benedict.

They were referring to police action on September 12 to stop a group of farmers from gathering close to parliament to protest against land eviction measures that were affecting their livelihood.

The protesters however continued with their protest and managed to meet 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 September 18, three Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) leaders were hauled up for police questioning, including deputy chairman S. Arutchelvan, treasurer Soh Sook Hwa and youth member Ayman Hareez. 

In another case, the two groups also highlighted police attempts to block the “Save Malaysia” protest by opposition groups on Malaysia Day against Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s discharge not amounting to an acquittal in his corruption case. 

Police are investigating at least 25 people under the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 over the rally.

Previously, police called up protesters over marches around International Women’s Day and Labour Day.

“Our organisations remain concerned that the Act falls short of international human rights law and standards,” said Benedict in a statement today.

He added that the law imposed 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.

Meanwhile Nalini Elumalai, senior Malaysia programme officer at Article 19, said the government must take steps to revise the Act 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,” added Nalini. – September 21, 2023.

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