Civil society groups want Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 abolished

Signature. — file pic. // Photo: Pixabay

KUCHING, March 28: Civil society groups in Sarawak are calling non-governmental organisations (NGOs), individual citizens as well as political parties to categorically demand the abolition of Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) 2012 as a core element of Sarawak’s political emancipation.

A joint statement by 26 civil society groups today highlighted that, of late, there had been more frequent calls by various parties, including human rights body Suhakam, for revision and even repeal of PAA 2012.

The groups noted that the national human rights body viewed that the promised reforms by the government of the day had been slow in coming, giving the perception that they were not serious about it.

“It stated ‘the government’s actions seemed to indicate a regression in the commitment to advance and promote human rights for all Malaysians’.”

In Sarawak, the groups pointed out that there was an added dimension of complexity when talking about fundamental freedoms, in this case, freedom of expression, to assemble and to associate under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution.

“Initiatives to open democratic spaces for discussion of pressing issues affecting Sarawakian interests and welfare are either subjugated or relegated to something of lesser importance than the ‘getting back Sarawak’s rights’ discourse vis a vis Putrajaya. This is not surprising nor new.

“Political subjugation or domination of Sarawak in the then BN-ruled Malaysia was not just confined to the erosion of powers and resources belonging to the state but also the curtailing of civil and political rights.”

As civil society actors, the groups believed that rebuilding an inclusive Malaysia based on the true spirit of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) must also include full attainment of civil and political rights enjoyable by Sarawakians and other Malaysians.

“We, thus, find it very disconcerting that in this era of the new Malaysia, this is still not happening.”

The group said that from the recent episode faced by the organisers of the Chat with ROSE forum on ‘Youth and Employment in Sarawak: Opportunities or Challenge’, in which the local police stopped the forum at the eleventh hour before it was due to begin, the PAA proved to be part of the draconian control imposed by the authorities whether at the federal, state or both levels to deny Sarawakians — as Malaysian citizens — the right to deliberate and form opinions on issues pertinent to their welfare.

“Surely the transfer of more power and resources from Kuala Lumpur to Kuching must be accompanied by political emancipation of ordinary Sarawakians to freely and without fear discuss and participate in issues that affect our daily lives, including to hold politicians accountable to the people.

“Any objection to the political emancipation of ordinary Sarawakians is undoubtedly hijacking the cause of Sarawak autonomy for authoritarian and kleptocratic rule.

“Sustaining political subjugation of ordinary Sarawakians or dumbing us down leaves us with two pathetic choices: to be further looted by Malayan-sanctioned or home-grown kleptocrats.”

Among the civil society groups that supported this were Bersih Sarawak, Dayak Nation Institute, Dayak Think Tank Association Sarawak (DTTAS), Lawyer Kamek For Change (LK4C), Miri United Club, Movement for Change Sarawak (MoCS), Rise of Sarawak Efforts (ROSE), Sarawak Association for Peoples’ Aspirations (Sapa), Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia), Save Rivers, Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak Baru (PBDSB), State Reform Party (STAR) and Sarawak Baru. — DayakDaily