Malaysia's government on Tuesday introduced legislation that will enforce new restrictions on public demonstrations, including a ban on street protests and other rules that opposition leaders believe are too repressive. Proposed by the National Front [party website], Malaysia's ruling party, and supported by Prime Minister Najib Razak [official profile], the bill, known as the Peaceful Assembly Bill [AP report], is expected to pass through Parliament quickly, and will require demonstrators to give police a 30-day notice of any protest. The police may then impose restrictions on the protest at their discretion, and even reject the proposed time and place for the demonstration. Additionally, street demonstrations are prohibited, as are protests near schools, hospitals, or places of worship. Statements made during protests cannot "promote ill will," and protesters can be fined up to 20,000 ringgit, or $6,200, if they break any of the rules. Although the ruling government party believes that the bill allows Malaysians to express concerns without putting public safety at risk, opposition leaders have accused Razak of reneging on his promise to make Malaysia a freer and more liberal society. Though he did not echo this opinion, Lim Chee Wee, President of the Malaysian Bar [advocacy website], stated that "[i]n its present form, the Bill is more restrictive than present law, and must be improved." Wee then recommended several amendments [press release] that could potentially make the bill more conforming to the Malayasian constitution [text, PDF].
The introduction of the Peaceful Assembly Bill comes just after Razak repealed Malaysia's widely criticized internal security laws [JURIST report], which allowed the imprisonment of individuals deemed to be national security threats for up to two years without trial. Although the prime minister has pledged that his administration will protect civil liberties, the Malaysian government has previously been criticized in response to its handling of protesters. In July, UN Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression Frank La Rue asserted [press release] that Malaysia's response to protests on July 9 [JURIST report] was too strong, and that such actions restrict the freedom of association while hindering the democratic process. In support of his claim, La Rue pointed to reports that the harsh reaction from Malaysian authorities resulted in injuries, at least one death, and more than 1,600 arrests in the nation's capital of Kuala Lumpur.