© 2010 William Cornforth/Human Rights Watch

(New York) – The Malaysian authorities should allow the Malaysian Bar Council’s march to parliament to proceed without disturbance from police or counter-protesters, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Prime Minister Najib Razak. The council plans to deliver a written statement urging amendments to the government’s recently proposed Peaceful Assembly Bill.

The Bar Council march is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on November 29, 2011, from the Royal Lake Club. Its organizers say they want to show support for the right to peaceful assembly, as guaranteed in article 10 of Malaysia’s constitution and article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Malaysia’s lawyers are marching out of real concerns that Malaysians’ freedoms of peaceful assembly and association are under threat from the proposed law,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “They have serious proposals to amend the law and the government should give them a serious hearing.”

In its letter to Najib, Human Rights Watch raised concerns about the bill’s blanket prohibition against “assemblies in motion,” such as marches and processions. Other concerns raised include overly broad authority for local police officials to regulate and disperse assemblies; an extensive list of “prohibited places” for which assemblies would not be allowed less than 50 meters away; wide powers for Malaysia’s home minister, including to determine whether an assembly may be legally held; and a prohibition on participation by children under age 15 years and non-citizens.

Human Rights Watch also expressed concern over the undue haste with which the Peaceful Assembly Bill is being propelled through parliament and the lack of meaningful consultation with civil society before it was introduced. The Malaysian government should withdraw the draft law immediately and refer it to a Parliamentary Select Committee, where stakeholders can have an opportunity to express their views on the measure.

“The government has yet to explain why it is rushing to pass a law that so many Malaysian groups are saying is seriously flawed,” Robertson said. “Prime Minister Najib should take the time to listen to all sides in this critical debate, starting with the Bar Council.”