Global rights body to release report on Malaysian clampdown in time for Asean summit

    Global human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) plans to release a report on Putrajaya’s clampdown on freedom of expression just before world leaders gather in Kuala Lumpur for the 27th Asean summit in November.

    BY JENNIFER GOMEZ | Published: 10 April 2015 7:00 AM

    Research for the report, “Criminalising  freedom of expression”, began last year and the early indications revealed that Malaysia’s standing, when measured against international standards, has turned “from bad to worse”, HRW’s Asia Division deputy director Phil Robertson told The Malaysian Insider.

    “The report will be made public as we want the world leaders to know the situation in Malaysia before they come here for the meeting,” Robertson said.

    “Malaysia is getting from bad to worse and our findings reflect that.”

    The five-day Asean summit which begins November 18 will also be attended by leaders from the United States, Japan, China and New Zealand, apart from Asean countries.

    Robertson was speaking after meeting The Malaysian Insider’s editors who were arrested and investigated under the Sedition Act and Multimedia and Communication Act last month over an article on the Conference of Rulers.

    He said HRW was in the process of compiling the report, which includes posing questions to Putrajaya on allegations that it was curbing freedom of expression.

    Robertson said dealing with the Malaysian government was more difficult compared to other Southeast Asian governments. Based on his experience in the past, Robertson said it was easier to meet officials from Indonesia and Thailand.

    “Our duty is to communicate the findings to the government and say to them, ‘here is what we found and here are our questions’, and to provide them with a formal opportunity to respond.”

    He said among the laws they were looking at were the Sedition Act, Peaceful Assembly Act, various sections in the Penal Code and the Communications and Multimedia Act.

    “If you have been charged with sedition recently, we definitely want to talk to you.

    “We do not believe in criminal defamation, people should not be put into prison for what they say, so we are saying, get rid of the Sedition Act,” said Robertson, adding that HRW will also speak to politicians and civil activists.

    Robertson added that they will also talk to Malaysian lawyers to get their input on the recommendations that should be made to Putrajaya that might have a chance of succeeding, in terms of bringing laws up to meet international standards.

    “The fact that they hauled up journalists is outrageous, and I hope they don’t compound their mistake by actually charging the TMI team.

    “For now, we are extremely concerned about what we are finding,” he added.

    HRW’s lawyer Linda Lakhdhir, who was also at the meeting with TMI editors, said the focus of the report was to look at Malaysian laws where someone could be jailed for something they said.

    “Some of these laws are vague and violate international standards so we are here to get examples how the laws have been used against members of the media and civil activists, among others,” she said.

    Robertson, expressing serious concern over the arrests of the five TMI editors, said the incident was a classic case of “criminalising freedom of expression”.

    “This case is typically something that we would look at including in the report,” he said, adding that the report will be ready in time for for the 27th Asean summit in November to be hosted by Malaysia as the current Asean chair.

    “There seems to be  a significant increase in efforts to criminalise freedom of expression, we see this as a claw back by the governments in  Asia  in dealing with the age of the internet.

    “And we see the general trend of trying to control what people say, and see it extending to Malaysia,” he said.

    Five editors and executives were arrested last month over a report on March 25, which claimed that the Conference of Rulers had rejected a proposal to amend a federal law to pave the way for hudud to be enforced in Kelantan.

    The editors and the publisher were held overnight at the Dang Wangi police station in Kuala Lumpur.

    From February to March, some 160 people, including politicians, activists, academics and journalists have been arrested and investigated under the Sedition Act.

    The majority of those detained were from the opposition, who were picked up for questioning the Federal Court’s verdict on Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, or for participating in two rallies calling for his release. – April 10, 2015.