Malaysia Government Announces New Public Gathering Laws

Posted November 22nd, 2011 at 9:15 am (UTC-5)
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Malaysia's government has proposed changes to restrictions on public gatherings, but some opposition groups say the new laws will do little to improve freedom of expression in the country.

The legislation proposed by Prime Minister Najib Razak's National Front party would eliminate a current law requiring demonstrators to acquire a police permit, which is often denied to opposition protesters.

Instead, the new legislation requires would-be demonstrators to provide police a 30-day advance notice of their intent to protest.

The law also bans street protests, as well as public assemblies near airports, train stations, places of worship, hospitals and schools.

Prime Minister Razak's office says the legislation would make it easier for Malaysians, “where necessary,” to express their views without putting public order at risk.

Mr. Razak promised a series of reforms after his government was harshly criticized in July, when police used tear gas and water cannons to break up a large march in Kuala Lumpur.

Some 20,000 demonstrators took part in what was the country's largest political protest in almost four years. Hundreds of people were arrested during the outlawed march.

Prime Minister Razak's party, which has been in power for 54 years, says that such protests threaten public order.

Parliament is expected to approve the new law as early as next month.