Peaceful Assembly Act 2011

After having a read of the gist of the new act, which had it’s first reading in Parliament today, I get the strangest feeling that the act was designed in haste. It is narrow in its scope and this may actually bite the government in its ass later.

However, what disturbs me the most is the nature of the act, which seems to pit the police against the organisers and the participants of any peaceful assembly as defined under the act. It also gives sweeping powers to the Home Minister in many matters.

Another thing that disturbs me is that there is no mention at all on the provision of other public service personnel such as the requirements to provide ambulances, or other emergency services during the rally.

The one thing that I find really funny is the singling out of street protests in the act. There is also a whole list of other areas where peaceful assemblies cannot be conducted at all. The act seems to place unnecessary restrictions on movement of the people.

According to Aziz Bari, this new act is essentially unconstitutional in so many ways. I cannot but agree with the expert on this.

I think that the act needs further improvement. I hope that it actually goes through the committee stage and gets amended so that people get a fair and just act. We need to remind the police that they are to serve the public, which means protecting both the general public and the assembling public.

Protests are an integral part of democracy.

Where is Article 9?

In light of recent developments where Section 15(5) of the UUCA was found to contradict Article 9 of the Consti, I thought that I should highlight another potential inconsistency. I’ve started reading statutes and the Islamic Family Act one was the thinnest of them all.

Section 59(2) of the Act says:

(2) Subject to Hukum Syarak and confirmation by the Court, a wife shall not be entitled to maintenance when she is nusyuz, or unreasonably refuses to obey the lawful wishes or commands of her husband, that is to say, inter alia

(a) when she withholds her association with her husband;
(b) when she leaves her husband’s home against his will; or
(c) when she refuses to move with him to another home or place,

without any valid reason according to Hukum Syarak.

Honestly, I think that there is an inconsistency between this section – particularly s.59(2b) and s.59(2c) – of the Islamic Family Act with Article 9 of the Consti, which says that:

(1) No citizen shall be banished or excluded from the Federation.
(2) Subject to Clause (3) and to any law relating to the security of the Federation or any part thereof, public order, public health, or the punishment of offenders, every citizen has the right to move freely throughout the Federation and to reside in any part thereof.
(3) So long as under this Constitution any other State is in a special position as compared with the States of Malaya, Parliament may by law impose restrictions, as between that State and other States, on the rights conferred by Clause (2) in respect of movement and residence.

So. I’m confused.

Legal Side of Politics is essentially what Constitutional Law is about – the legal side of politics. As a result, we need to be critical in our thinking of the problem. The only way to understand Consti is to be fully aware of politics.

That’s essentially what Johan taught us today in the introduction to Consti. I like him and he is passionate about the subject. He is also very philosophical in his approach and is thoroughly grounded in Constitutionalism. However, he is tardy – late to class each time today.

Unlike the other modules, the reading list for Consti is fluid and dynamic. Not only are we encouraged to read legal texts, we are also encouraged to read the mainstream media, alternative media, as well as papers put out by certain real NGOs.

We were asked to ultimately draw our own conclusions on the matter.

Also, I learned that the law professor at UIA who is currently facing suspension of whatever form, literally wrote the text-book on Constitution. Malaysian Constitution: Critical Introduction by Abdul Aziz Bari is a recommended text.

Now, that puts things in a whole different perspective for me. With all due respect, UIA has just alienated whole generations of law students in Malaysia, especially those who have been fortunate enough to study under him.

Ultimately, the function of the Constitution is to serve to limit the powers of the government.