Malaysia to legalise gatherings without permits
Malaysia’s prime minister is to table a law allowing peaceful gatherings without police permits, in an apparent pre-election move to improve civil liberties after street protests, a minister said Monday.
Nazri Aziz, who is in charge of law, told state media premier Najib Razak will propose the Peaceful Assembly Bill to replace one of a slew of old draconian laws that he promised to scrap in a surprise move in September.
“It will be tabled by Prime Minister Najib Razak (this) week, but we have yet to confirm the date,” Nazri said.
The New Straits Times, in a front-page headline, said the new bill would allow “peaceful gatherings without permits”, quoting government sources and adding that the dispensation would apply to specific venues such as stadiums.
Under Malaysia’s strict security laws, a police permit is required if three or more people gather to demonstrate.
Last month, Najib introduced legislation to repeal two security laws and set free 125 people held under them, marking the first steps in his vow to repeal or soften authoritarian laws such as the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows detention without trial and has been used against government opponents.
The premier is pushing to improve civil liberties after his government came under heavy criticism following police use of tear gas and water cannon to crush a July street rally calling for electoral reform.
However, critics say Najib had reneged on repealing the ISA following last week’s arrest of 13 people including six foreigners under the act for allegedly trying to revive a militant group.
Ministers counter that there is no other law to hold militants on until the ISA replacement laws are tabled next year.
The ethnic Malay-dominated governing coalition now headed by Najib that has ruled Malaysia since its 1957 independence has employed a range of tough laws to maintain order in the Muslim-majority but multi-racial country.
But the laws have sparked growing condemnation by critics who call them inhumane and prone to government abuse to stifle legitimate dissent.