KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 27 ― Malaysia’s government has been accused of turning its back on pledged reforms and instead used criminal laws to crack down on its critics, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report.
The 145-page report cited a long list of arrests of people seen to be critical of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his administration, and also the suspension of two newspapers, the blocking of websites and the declaration that peaceful protests were unlawful.
“Malaysia has gone on a binge of prosecutions of critics,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, was quoted as saying, claiming that Najib had broken promises to revise laws that criminalise peaceful expression.
“The government is making a mockery of its claims to democracy and fundamental rights by treating criticism as a crime,” Adams added.
The report by the United Nations agency is scheduled to be officially presented to the media at an event in Kuala Lumpur at 10.30am today.
HRW noted how “repression” intensified after the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition lost the majority vote in the 13th General Election, and that the government’s active use of criminal laws to silence peaceful expression is a violation of international legal standards.
Among the cases cited was the prosecution of Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, a political cartoonist known by the pen name Zunar.
Zunar faces up to 43 years’ jail on charges including nine counts of sedition, one for each of nine tweets he sent criticising a court’s decision upholding a sodomy conviction of opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
The report also pointed to the sedition charge of University of Malaya law professor Azmi Sharom, who is facing trial for expressing his legal opinion that actions taken by the government six years ago were illegal.
Also cited is the case of Maria Chin Abdullah, the chairman of Bersih 2.0, an organisation that campaigns for free and clean elections, who is facing 20 years’ jail on charges that she “participated” in an anti-Najib street protest in February.
Rights groups have pointed out that government prosecution of critics doubled recently as Najib battles hard to fend off allegations of corruption and power abuse due to his link with a state investment arm facing graft investigations.
Najib denied any wrongdoing.