Malaysia’s human rights situation deteriorated sharply during 2015, as Putrajaya increased its campaign of harassment and repression against activists, political opposition figures, and the media, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today.
The report came hours after Malaysia’s rank on the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) in 2015 dropped by four points to 54, compared with 50 in 2014, said global corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI).
“The Malaysian government responded to public criticism of a major corruption scandal and its persecution of former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim with a wave of repression,” Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, said in a statement.
“Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is trampling on fundamental rights to hush up corruption allegations and maintain his grip on power.”
In the 659-page World Report 2016, the New York-based HRW executive director Kenneth Roth wrote that the spread of terrorist attacks beyond the Middle East and the huge flows of refugees spawned by repression and conflict led many governments to curtail rights in misguided efforts to protect their security.
At the same time, he said authoritarian governments throughout the world, fearful of peaceful dissent that is often magnified by social media, embarked on the most intense crackdown on independent groups in recent times.
In the Malaysia section of the report, HRW said Malaysian authorities arrested dozens of people under the Sedition Act for remarks critical of the government, the judiciary, and sultans throughout 2015.
At least 33 people have been charged with sedition in the last two years, including seven opposition members of parliament, it said.
HRW also noted that last April, the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition passed amendments to the Sedition Act to increase the penalties for violations and make it easier to use the law against online speech.
The strengthening of the law was a major reversal by Najib, who had repeatedly promised to repeal the Sedition Act and replace it with a so-called Harmony Act, the global group said.
HRW also said Putrajaya had responded to public reporting and discussions of corruption allegations involving state-owned 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) by suspending newspapers and blocking websites.
It also banned the logo of Bersih (Coalition for Free and Fair Elections), arresting dozens of people for participating in peaceful protests, and charging individuals with “economic sabotage” because they lodged police reports about 1MDB in foreign countries.
“The government also brought back indefinite detention without trial by passing the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), which allows a government-appointed board to impose detention without trial for up to two years, renewable indefinitely with no possibility of judicial review.
“In December, it passed a sweeping National Security Council law that allows the prime minister to declare security areas within which restraints on police power are suspended,” HRW said.
It also listed other infractions, including the prosecution of opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim culminated in February when the Federal Court upheld his sodomy conviction and sentence of five years’ imprisonment.
In October, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined that Anwar was being arbitrarily detained and demanded his immediate release and reinstatement of his political rights,” it added.
The rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people remain under threat in Malaysia, HRW said.
It added the October decision by the Federal Court to uphold a state law prohibiting “a male person posing as a woman” seriously undermines the rights of transgender individuals in the country.
There has been little progress in finding the two men who attacked LGBT rights defender Nisha Ayub with metal pipes outside her apartment in September, it noted.
“The government’s intolerance of critical speech and its on-going campaign of arrests and prosecutions belie any claim that Malaysia is a rights-respecting democracy,” Robertson said.
“If Malaysia wants to play a role on the international stage, it needs to step back from the brink and end the current campaign of repression.” – January 27, 2016.