Four years after the 2007 “Walk for Justice”, the Malaysian Bar is again calling on its members to march in Kuala Lumpur to protest against the Peaceful Assembly Bill 2011 which has been presented to Parliament.The march is to start at 11.30am on Tuesday and the lawyers will walk from the Royal Lake Club to Parliament, which is scheduled to debate the Bill, tabled on Nov 22, the same morning.A memorandum will be submitted to the Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Liew Vui Keong at the end of the march.In an official circular entitled “Walk For Freedom 2011: Peaceful Assembly Bill Cannot And Must Not Become Law!” published on its website, Bar Council president Lim Chee Wee described the Bill as an “objectionable Bill”.Lim quoted the late American civil rights movement leader Martin Luther King Jr, who said: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”He added: “The Malaysian Bar, and indeed Malaysia, is now facing such a moment of challenge and controversy – an objectionable Bill, being rushed into law with unseemly haste and without adequate public consultation, which effectively robs the rakyat of our constitutional right to freedom of assembly.”Lim stressed that the Bill, which aims to replace Section 27 of the Police Act in regulating public assembly, is far more restrictive than the current law.”It is not a piece of legislation which we, as lawyers, can watch enter our statute books without standing up against it.”It is not a piece of legislation that we want future generations to inherit, without us walking, and spending every ounce of our energy to oppose. If this piece of legislation makes it to the statute books, future generations will inherit a nation that is far from modern and progressive.”Quoting Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s speech on the eve of Malaysia Day on Sept 15 this year, Lim pointed out that the Bill was not “in accordance with the supremacy of the constitution, rule of law and respect for basic human rights and individual rights” as Najib promised.”We feel let down by how far short this Bill falls in relation to what the Malaysian people were promised in the Prime Minister’s Malaysia Day 2011 message. In short, the prime minister must walk his own talk,” he said.Not in keeping with international normsThis Bill, Lim explained, was also not in line with international norms because of, among others:
- Prohibition of street protests (defined widely as “open air assembly which begins with a meeting at a specified place and consists of walking in a mass march or rally for the purpose of objecting to or advancing a particular cause or causes”);
- Prohibition of organisation of assemblies by persons below the age of 21 years;
- Prohibition of participation in peaceful assemblies by children below the age of 15 years;
- Unduly onerous responsibilities and restrictions on organisers and assemblies; and
- Excessive fines for non-compliance with the Bill.
Although the government seems adamant in passing the Bill, which is likely to be done next week, Lim hoped that the march could make a difference. “We must urge the prime minister to amend the Bill by way of public consultation to ensure that Malaysia will have a legislation in the public interest, which truly upholds, protects and promotes our constitutional right to freedom of assembly.”I call on all members to support us in this crucial initiative. See you on Tuesday. Let’s walk!” he concluded.Back in 2007, more than 2,000 lawyers joined the Bar Council’s 3.5km-march, dubbed “Walk for Justice”, in Putrajaya to push for the establishment of a royal commission of inquiry into the infamous ‘Lingam Tape’ expose.Coupled with various public protests, the march succeeded in compelling the then prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, to compromise and set up a royal commission of inquiry headed by former Chief Judge of Malaya, Haidar Mohamed Noor. – Mkini