Over the past week, the outrage and attacks by politicians, the media, social media users and the public against the organisers of the Womens Day March has been persistent. In response to these attacks, the Government has responded by making statements indicating that they are moving towards strengthening the law with regards to organizing rallies. I strongly condemn this move.

Any attempt by the Home Ministry to amend the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 to be more restrictive will be a betrayal to what was promised in the Pakatan Manifesto. This is not what we were voted in for and Pakatan Harapan will surely pay for it if it is not careful.

The current law does not call for organisers to apply for permits and the Government must not bow down to pressure by imposing such conditions.

After years of being victims of this draconian legislation, it is sad to see the Government still consider keeping the Peaceful Assembly Act.

Instead of allowing democratic freedom to flourish, we are choosing to go down a dangerous path of extremism.
The Government must continue to promote human rights as promised and strengthen the position of NGOs and organisations so that they can continue to help those in our society are often overlooked and left without any protection.

Human Rights are an important part of the Sustainable Development Goals. According to the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, “the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are indivisible from other human rights”.

Both Sisters in Islam and Women’s Aid Organisation have done extensive work to promote women’s rights and gender equality in Malaysia for years.

Their work includes providing legal aid and counselling including to women who find themselves victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and divorce cases. Sisters in Islam have helped over 8400 Muslim women since 2003.

Human Rights NGOs like SIS do important work for women in Malaysia. It has worked hard to give a voice to the voiceless women in Malaysia through education, legal services and advocacy.

Attempting to limit the functions of human rights organisations undermine civic freedoms and endanger our right to exercise our freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

Already we have heard calls by PAS leaders condemn the organisers including in Parliament and called on the Government to take action against the organisers of the Womens Day Rally.

PAS Deputy President Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man’s had recently called for the Government to stop funding human rights NGOs like Sisters In Islam (SIS) and the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam).

Meanwhile, Selangor PAS chief has accused Women, Family and Community Development Deputy Minister Hannah Yeoh of going against the Selangor Sultan and a state fatwa over the allocation the Ministry gives to SIS.

This dangerous trend is similar to the narrative espoused by far right western parties in countries like the United States, France, Poland, Austria and Hungary who have been introducing policies to limit the rights of certain people, especially Muslims and immigrants, and subsequently exclude them from society.

This narrative is transforming how we perceive our culture, our country and our identity. We have seen the hatred and violence that this western concept of extremism brings and we must move quickly to oppose it in the strongest sense possible.

If we allow this narrative to prevail, we will be helping to create a hostile environment for organisers of rallies in which threats, harassment and intimidation will become common.

The Pakatan Harapan Manifesto had promised to improve our human rights record including by implementing the National Human Rights Blueprint and by making Suhakam “a body that is highly-regarded and respected”.

I also strongly condemn the attacks by both sides on the organisers of the rally. All charges against the organisers must be dropped and there is absolutely no need for the police to call the organisers up for questioning on Monday.

I also call on the police to also look into the allegations of attacks against the staff and also on those who attended the rally.


*Picture credit – The Star Online