The ICJ called on the Government of Malaysia to take immediate steps to protect the right of all persons in the country to freedom of expression and assembly, after seven organizers of the International Women’ Day (IWD) March were summoned for questioning by police authorities on 14 March 2019.
“It is very concerning that the Malaysian authorities continue to rely on repressive legislation to control and undermine freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in the country,” said Emerlynne Gil, ICJ’s Senior International Legal Adviser.
The Women’s March took place in Kuala Lumpur, on 9 March 2019. The demands of the participating groups included an ‘end of all violence based on gender and sexual orientation’, the ban of all child marriages, and the setting of RM1,800 as a minimum wage.
A statement by the Dang Wangi District Police Deputy Chief identified the organizers as individuals who had spoken at an ‘LGBT’ rally.
There were reportedly taken in for questioning on 18 March for potential violations of Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act and Section 9(5) of the Peaceful Assembly Act. They remain at risk of being charged for these offences.
The ICJ considers the Sedition Act 1948 and the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 to be incompatible with international standards. The ICJ has previously called on the Government of Malaysia to abolish both laws, which have historically been used to silence voices of those challenging governmental policy.
The laws place restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression that are overbroad, unnecessary and disproportionate, and inconsistent with rule of law and human rights principles. The Pakatan Harapan Government committed itself to abolishing the Sedition Act 1948 and the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012, but has not done so to date.
“The vague definition of ‘seditious tendencies’ in the Sedition Act has been used as a tool for silencing government critics and human rights defenders by previous administrations. It is disappointing that the Malaysian authorities have ended the moratorium on the use of the Sedition Act 1948, and continue to use it, instead of moving towards its abolition,” said Gil.
According to international standards, any limits on the right to peaceful assembly should not require prior authorization by the authorities. Notification requirements must not be unduly bureaucratic and be used only for the purpose of allowing the authorities to facilitate the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly, and to protect public safety.
In a 14 March statement, the organizers claimed to have been in regular communication with the police and to have been in compliance with the relevant notice provisions of the Peaceful Assembly Act.
The ICJ calls on the Malaysian authorities to end any investigations targeting the organizers of the Women’s March pursuant to the Peaceful Assembly and Sedition Act. It also calls on the Government to abolish the Peaceful Assembly Act and the Sedition Act.
Emerlynne Gil, ICJ Senior International Legal Adviser, t: +66 840923575, e: emerlynne.gil(a)icj.org
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