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Malaysia lawmakers advance ban on street protests

Malaysia's lower house of Parliament [official website] approved a new law on Tuesday that would ban street protests and impose tougher restrictions on demonstrators in the nation. The Peaceful Assembly Bill [text, PDF] contains an outright ban on street protests while simultaneously restricting the population that may exercise the right to peaceful protest. Under the Act, non-citizens and individuals under 21 years of age are excluded from the "right to organize an assembly or participate in an assembly peaceably and without arms." Those who violate the law may be penalized with thousands of dollars in fines. The ruling party of Prime Minister Najib Razak [official profile] has said the Act is necessary to balance public safety with the right to peaceful assembly. Many have been sharply critical of the law, including opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim [official website; JURIST news archive], who says the law is being improperly rushed through Parliament. Approximately 500 lawyers protested the law by marching on Parliament [AP report] before the vote in the upper house. Rights groups say they are considering challenging the law in court.

Several other laws have been challenged recently in Malaysian courts. Late last month, the Malaysian Court of Appeal [official website] ruled that a law prohibiting college students from taking part in political activities is unconstitutional [JURIST report]. The suit, filed by four International Islamic University of Malaysia [official website] students in 2010, challenged the constitutionality of the 1971 Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) [text, PDF] prohibiting students from political participation. Also last month, Malaysia's government released 125 prisoners [JURIST report] who were being held under a decades-old security law that has been widely criticized by human rights and opposition groups. In September, Razak announced that the government would repeal two strict security laws [JURIST report] that had allowed extended detention of suspects without trial. The government also said that it will review other laws dealing with freedom of the press.

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