Global rights group says Malaysia’s human rights marked by ‘two Najibs’

An international rights watchdog has accused Putrajaya of backtracking on its human rights promises after its electoral setback in the 13th general election last May, despite unveiling a slew of reforms before the polls.

“Malaysia in 2013 was marked by a ‘tale of two Najibs’ – promising legal reforms before the election and restoring repressive laws after it,” said Human Rights Watch (HRW) deputy Asia director Phil Robertson, referring to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

In its World Report 2014, HRW highlighted key issues that plagued Malaysia in 2013, noting that the Barisan Nasional (BN) government stepped up repressive laws after the May 5 polls.

HRW noted that after BN lost the majority vote, Putrajaya passed new repressive laws, arrested opposition activists and further repressed political speech, bringing an “end to Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s proclaimed reform agenda”.

“The Malaysian government responded to its electoral setback by curtailing rights rather than respecting them,” Robertson said.

Chief among the issues affecting Malaysia’s human rights reputation was the controversial amendment to the Prevention of Crime Act (PCA) in October, which HRW said restored “some of the abusive practices that had been in the recently abolished Internal Security Act and Emergency Ordinance”.

The report also noted what it described as continued persecution of opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on “sodomy” charges. Calling it “politically motivated”, HRW said that Anwar could lose his seat in Parliament besides facing 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Citing the controversial Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) and the Sedition Act, HRW said rally goers were prosecuted while opposition politicians and civil society activists were accused of sedition.

“At the so-called People’s Uprising Rally in Kuala Lumpur on January 12, 2013, the police set 27 conditions and followed up by investigating rule violations that were either trivial or protected under international law, such as carrying placards with ‘inappropriate slogans’,” the report said.

Among others, HRW noted a protest in Sabah in February 2013 for indigenous rights and fair elections, which the authorities claimed were not an “ordinary” march under the PAA, as well as “hostile investigations” and accusations by government-controlled media on rights groups such as Suaram.

“The Malaysian government investigated Suaram under three different laws between July 2012 and February 2013, under pressure from ministers who publicly attacked Suaram for receiving foreign funds,” it said.

The report also touched on custodial deaths which affected public confidence in the police, adding that the government not only continued to reject an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to probe complaints on police, but the existing Enforcement Agencies Integrity Commission (EAIC) was powerless to take action against such misconduct.

The 667-page report, covering 90 countries, found that Putrajaya has failed to show commitment to human rights by ratifying treaties in the United Nations Human Rights Council.

“Malaysia did not use its membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council from 2010 to 2013 to improve its commitment to international human rights treaties and processes,” it noted.

Malaysia has to date only ratified four international human rights conventions, one of the lowest in the region.

The report noted Putrajaya’s role in blocking lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights from the Asean Human Rights Declaration in November 2012, as well as on rights of migrant workers in the region.

The regressive moves comes after Najib announced Malaysia’s intention last April to seek a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for the 2015-2016 term.

The country’s restrictive printing act, and its tough laws on associations under the Registrar of Societies, were also mentioned in the report. It said the home minister has “absolute” discretion to declare a society unlawful, adding that registration of groups critical of the government had been deliberately delayed or denied.

“In the coming year Malaysia’s leaders need to urgently reverse that trend, and recognise that promoting and protecting the rights of the people – including political opponents and outspoken activists – is their clear obligation,” said Robertson. – January 21, 2014.