Malaysia: Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Monday defended a law regulating public gatherings, responding to a growing public outcry that it will limit freedom of assembly.
Najib has been struggling to regain support ahead of snap polls expected within months by promising greater civil liberties, and the Peaceful Assembly Bill allows for gatherings without the currently required police permit.
But the law has come under fire with activists and opposition leaders saying it imposes too many conditions, such as the outright banning of street protests.
Najib said the bill, which he tabled in parliament last week, aimed to guarantee the right to peaceful assembly and accused critics of wanting to “confuse the public.”
“The important thing is that the new act guarantees the right of the citizen to assemble in a peaceful manner,” Najib was quoted by national news agency Bernama as saying.
He said street protests were not allowed as it inconvenienced the public but the government had designated places, including stadiums, where gatherings can be held without notice.
The bill is expected to be passed Tuesday as Najib’s Barisan Nasional coalition has the necessary majority — even without the opposition’s support.
De facto law minister Nazri Aziz told AFP that the government would table changes to the bill before voting to further address criticism.
The changes include reducing the notice period rally organisers must give authorities from within 30 to 10 days.
But senior opposition lawmaker Lim Kit Siang warned of “another political disaster” for Najib if he pushes the bill through following a much-criticised police crackdown on a July mass protest for electoral reforms.
He said the law was “the worst and most slipshod bill in 54-year parliamentary history raising questions about the prime minister’s bona fides in political reforms.”
Edmund Bon, a prominent human rights lawyer, said he expected at least 500 lawyers and activists to walk to parliament Tuesday to call on the government to withdraw what he called “an obnoxious piece of legislation.”
“It restricts the constitutional right to free assembly,” he told AFP, adding that it severely limited the places where demonstrations could be held.