Human rights in Malaysia under the administration of Datuk Seri Najib Razak have hit a new low, Suara Rakyat Malaysia’s (Suaram) 2014 report on human rights in the country said.
BY ELIZABETH ZACHARIAH AND NATHELIE TAY
Published: 9 December 2014
The report launched in Kuala Lumpur today said freedom of expression “took a heavy toll” this year, with 44 people being investigated, charged or convicted under the Sedition Act 1948.
The 44 include opposition politicians, activists, lawyers, academics, Muslim preachers as well as students.
“Freedom of expression was seriously undermined with the relentless intimidation launched by authorities against civil society organisations,” it said.
Civil society groups which have come under threat by the authorities include the Coalition of Malaysian NGOS in the UPR Process (Comango), Negara-Ku, Sisters in Islam (SIS) and Penang voluntary patrol unit (PPS), it observed.
And a “worrying development” this year was an escalation in hate speech and violence – allowed by the authorities – that has stoked racial and religious hatred and intolerance, the report further noted.
“Freedom of religion and ethnic relations have been under severe threat despite claims of commitment to moderation and tolerance by the prime minister at high-profile international meetings,” it said.
Suaram’s observations, especially on the silencing of dissent against the government, follow a new police investigation under the Sedition Act on Taman Medan assemblyman Haniza Talha for questioning the national budget allocation to early childhood education programme Permata, of which the prime minister’s wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor is patron.
Activists have warned that the investigation on the Selangor lawmaker is proof that Putrajaya’s move to retain the Sedition Act was not about protecting racial harmony as claimed, but to silence those who questioned government policy.
Suaram’s report noted that following Barisan Nasional’s shocking performance in the 2008 general election, Najib had attempted to win back votes by introducing several reforms after he took over as prime minister in 2009.
“This attempt at reform has been reversed after yet another debacle for BN in the 2013 GE, epitomised by the reneging on the promise to repeal the Sedition Act, with the PM seemingly bowing down to demands of extremist groups for his own political survival and bent on teaching dissenting voters a lesson,” it said.
At the Umno general assembly late last month, Najib made a U-turn on his two-year-old promise to repeal the Sedition Act.
“This act will not only be maintained, but strengthened. At least two items: there will be a special provision to protect the sanctity of Islam, while other religions also cannot be insulted,” he had said during his speech.
Critics, including activists and opposition politicians, have slammed Najib for going back on his word, accusing him of succumbing to pressure from right-wing Malay groups and from his own party.
The report also addressed human trafficking, corruption and accountability, and abuse of power.
The report also said that this year had seen the government accepting only 150 out of 232 recommendations made to Malaysia at the UN Human Rights Council during the universal periodic review.
“Most of the crucial recommendations for human rights improvements were rejected,” it added.
Human rights awards were also given out today to the Transgender Community in Seremban and soup kitchen organiser Dapur Jalanan.
They were the winners from six nominees of Suaram’s 16th Human Rights Award 2014 and were chosen for their work in fighting for the rights of marginalised and oppressed communities.
Bersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah, who was one of the judges, said the transgender community was chosen was because of their perseverance in seeking justice for themselves which led to a recent landmark ruling in the Court of Appeal.
The appellate court in a unanimous ruling had declared that Section 66 of the Negri Sembilan Shariah Criminal Enactment, which makes it a crime for Muslim men to cross-dress in public, was void as it violated the constitutional rights of freedom of expression, movement and the right to live in dignity and equality.
Dapur Jalanan meanwhile is a prominent soup kitchen which has fought alongside other groups against the government move this year to ban the feeding of the poor and homeless in an upmarket retail and hotel district in Kuala Lumpur. – December 9, 2014.