Malaysia “intensified” its crackdown on freedom of expression and other civil and political rights last year, the latest Amnesty International report on the State of the World’s Human Rights said.
The report for 2015/2016 to be released later today said this was evidenced from the use of the Sedition Act to silence government critics.
The act was also amended and its scope made wider to cover electronic media and include harsher penalties “such as mandatory and increased prison sentences”, the report said.
Amnesty added that the colonial-era law, which has been abolished in the United Kingdom itself, had been used to press charges against “at least 15 people” throughout last year. It mentioned political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, better known as Zunar, as one of them.
The report also noted the passing of the National Security Council (NSC) Bill by Parliament last December.
The bill gives “emergency-like” powers to a committee headed by the prime minister to declare an area under emergency and conduct searches, arrests and seizures without warrants.
Critics say such powers should only be for the Yang di-Pertuan Agong as stipulated by the Federal Constitution.
Among other examples of repression noted in the report’s section on Malaysia was the Federal Court’s conviction of former opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on sodomy charges and the upholding of his five-year prison sentence.
Amnesty described the charges as “politically motivated and an attempt to silence government critics”.
The report also noted repression of the media with the arrests of journalists by police and Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission officers over a report “concerning the Kelantan state hudud bill or Islamic penal code”, in reference to the arrest of The Malaysian Insider editors in March last year.
It said the Printing Presses and Publications Act was still in use to impose restrictions on media outlets and publishing houses, and that licences for print publications were revocable by the home minister.
This makes it “difficult for independent outlets” to get publishing permits, it said.
Amnesty said there remained various laws used against peaceful protests last year, such as the Peaceful Assembly Act, the Sedition Act and sections of the Penal Code.
Section 124 of the code on “acts detrimental to parliamentary democracy” were most often used against peaceful demonstrators, it said.
Other repressions on freedom of moment were travel bans imposed on some opposition politicians.
Amnesty also noted the power to conduct arbitrary arrests and detentions, allowed under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) which requires a low threshold of evidence, “including evidence that would not be admissible in court”.
Pota, a security law, was passed in April last year and allows for detention of terrorist suspects without trial for up to two years.
Detention can be renewed indefinitely with review, not by the courts, but a board that has powers to make detentions or restrict orders.
Amnesty said it noted concerns by legal and civil society groups that Pota could “lead to torture of detainees and facilitate repression of legitimate dissent”.
Another stain on Malaysia’s human rights record was human trafficking found to have taken place along the Thai-Malaysian border where more than 100 mass graves were discovered last year.
Amnesty noted that following international criticism, Malaysia together with Indonesia took in up to 7,000 boat refugees and migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh who attempted to land on their shores.
Deaths in custody was also noted in the Malaysia report, with 11 recorded last year “as a result of alleged torture or other ill-treatment”, Amnesty said.
“The government continued to reject calls to establish and Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission as recommended by a Royal Commission in 2005,” it added.
Another long-standing human rights abuse in its Malaysia report was the death penalty, against which Amnesty has consistently campaigned.
“Official figures indicated that 33 executions were carried out between 1998 and 2015, but no further details on executions were made publicly available.
“In November the government announced that legislative reforms to review the mandatory death penalty laws would be introduced in Parliament in early 2016,” the report said. – February 24, 2016.