Malaysia: Putrajaya’s ‘backsliding’ human rights eclipsing Najib’s earlier reforms, says watchdog

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 23 — Malaysia’s human rights track record has taken a turn for the worse in the last six months, a human rights watchdog claimed today as Putrajaya readies itself to face its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in the United Nations (UN) tomorrow.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the “repressive” actions by Putrajaya this year has shadowed earlier reforms pushed by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in 2011 and 2012.

“In the weeks before the UN review, Malaysia passed laws permitting detention without trial, dragged critics into court for staging protests and showing films, and continued its dubious prosecution of the opposition leader,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW said in a statement here.

“The Human Rights Council should speak out against Malaysia’s backtracking on human rights, and set out benchmarks for improvement.”

HRW also noted that Malaysia’s alleged downslide occurred while it was a two-term member of the Human Rights Council itself, and as such, the country should be counted on to uphold the highest human rights standards.

HRW pointed out that Lena Hendry of the human rights group Pusat KOMAS went on trial on October 21, for organising a public screening of “No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka,” an award-winning documentary about alleged war crimes by the Sri Lankan government.

If found guilty under the Film Censorship Act, Hendry faces up to three years in prison and a fine of RM30,000.

Meanwhile, on October 6, Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had supported the use of lethal force against criminal suspects in violation of international law, it said.

In a speech in Ayer Keroh, Malacca, Ahmad Zahid had declared a “shoot first” policy for the police in dealing with suspected gang members in the wake of a violent crime spree that has resulted in Malays making up the majority of the victims.

HRW also said that the passing of the Prevention of Crime Act (PCA) on October 2 will establish up to two years of administrative detention for individuals “merely accused of serious crimes”, and provide for banishment to remote regions for a renewable five-year period.

Putrajaya also had prosecuted dozens of opposition activists under the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) for holding rallies protesting the May polls, despite Najib’s earlier pledge to abolish the Sedition Act.

According to HRW, despite signalling its intent to improve respect for civil and political rights in Malaysia’s first UPR in 2009, Putrajaya had not fulfilled a promise to replace the Sedition Act.

Instead, a new “repressive” law in the form of Security Offences (Special Measures) 2012 Act (SOSMA) was enacted in place of the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the Emergency Ordinance (EO), it said.

“Malaysia’s human rights record has taken an astounding turn for the worse in the past six months that should not go unnoticed by countries at the Human Rights Council,” said Robertson said.

“The UPR session is a moment for concerned governments to tell Malaysian policymakers to reverse course on rights.”

Malaysia is expected to face a beating for its human rights record when the government faces its second UPR this October 24.

Malaysia was first came under the UPR review on February 11, 2009, and consequently accepted 62 of the 103 recommendations issued by the UPR working group.

The UPR, according to media reports, is a United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council mechanism that was established in 2007 to improve the treatment of human rights in all 193 UN member states.