In its 2018 World Report released in New York, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Putrajaya continued to shift toward a more conservative Islam.
It cited PAS’s plans to introduce amendments to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, allowing shariah courts to impose stiffer punishments on Muslim offenders.
The report also noted the arrest of Turkish academic Mustafa Akyol by the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department, for giving a talk on Islam without official credentials from religious authorities.
HRW Asia deputy director Phil Robertson said Prime Minister Najib Razak should speak out for all Malaysians.
“In a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country, Najib should defend the rights of everyone in the country to speak freely and practise their religion without fear,” he said.
HRW also questioned the claim by Najib that freedom of speech was “thriving” in Malaysia, saying the reality did not reflect this.
“With corruption allegations still casting a long shadow over Najib and national elections scheduled for 2018, the government tightened repressive laws while lashing out against and criminally charging peaceful critics,” it said in the 643-page report, which reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries.
It warned that fear of further repression against activists “will only increase” as the general election approaches, adding that critics had been charged under the Communications and Multimedia Act for voicing out on social media.
The report questioned Malaysia’s commitment to protect refugees, in the wake of tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing to the country.
It said although over 150,000 refugees and asylum seekers were registered with the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR, they could not work, travel, or enroll in government schools.
“Asylum seekers arrested by authorities are treated as ‘illegal migrants’ and locked up in overcrowded and unhealthy immigration detention centres,” the report said.
HRW further questioned the absence of any action over the discovery of some 100 bodies in Wang Kelian, Perlis in 2015, believed to be victims of human trafficking.
“The 12 policemen initially charged in the case were all exonerated and released in March 2017,” said HRW.
It said despite this, the US State Department had upgraded Malaysia to Tier 2 in its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report.
“The Malaysian government has failed to effectively implement amendments passed in 2014 to Malaysia’s 2007 anti-trafficking law, in particular by taking the necessary administrative steps to provide assistance and work authorisation to all trafficking victims who desire it, while ensuring their freedom of movement.”