Malaysia: Suaram: Police abuses, rally crackdowns sully Putrajaya’s rights record

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 26 — Rampant police shootings, suspicious deaths in custody, and a refusal to allow space for public protests were among key problems tarnishing Malaysia’s human rights record, according to a report by liberties group Suaram released today.

In its “Malaysia Human Rights Report 2012: Civil and Political Rights” published today, Suaram gave top billing to alleged abuses involving Malaysia’s law enforcement agencies, which it described as increasingly serious.

“In 2012, there were nine deaths in police custody, according to Suaram’s monitoring and documentation. Deaths in police custody have been a major source of concern in the country,” the group said today.

It noted that while the 2006 Royal Commission on the Police previously recommended that all such cases require a police report to be prepared within a week and an inquiry held inside of 30 days, both were not adhered to by authorities, leading to such cases languishing in the courts.

Suaram also noted that the country has not legislated a Coroner’s Act to provide for a Coroner’s Court to deal with cases of suspicious deaths in custody, despite high-powered recommendations for both.

“Equally as worrying are the cases of deaths caused by police shooting, which have occurred rampantly with impunity,” Suaram said.

“According to the Home Ministry official statistics from January to August 2012, 37 people were shot dead by the police with no single police officer being held accountable for any of those deaths.”

Beyond alleged abuses by the police, the group also highlighted what it termed to be an erosion of public’s right to assemble despite the introduction of the Peaceful Assembly Act to replace Section 27 of the Police Act 1967, which previously required police permission before public gatherings could be held.

“Instead of opening up more democratic space, the PAA is more restrictive than before. It seeks to restrict public demonstrations in enclosed spaces such as stadiums and halls as most public areas are now off limits and the law totally bans ‘street rallies’,” according to the report.

Coincidentally, a Johor court this morning found Johor PKR executive secretary R. Yuneswaran guilty of failing to provide adequate notice as required under the new assembly law today, making him the first person to be convicted under the PAA.

Suaram alleged that instead allowing more space for protests, the law has been abused to selectively target critics of the government.

It further noted the government’s increasing readiness to apply the colonial-era Sedition Act in cases it arbitrarily deemed “too sensitive to be discussed in the public sphere”, as well as the lack of application of the law towards parties supportive of the government.

“Freedom of speech and expression, especially that of opposition politicians and critics of the government, has become one of the most seriously and frequently violated human right in Malaysia, and this trend has continued in 2012,” said Suaram.

The group said that these long-standing issues highlighted Putrajaya’s resistance towards meaningful reforms despite its public posturing and announcements.

Suaram’s criticisms today come even as Putrajaya is seeking to reintroduce the power to detain individuals without charge or trial that it had done away with when it repealed both the Internal Security Act and Emergency Ordinance in 2011.

In extensive amendments to the Prevention of Crime Act tabled yesterday, the government is eyeing preventive detention that will allow them to hold suspects for up to two years at a time.

Saying that it will increase its role as a public watchdog given the issues highlighted, Suaram later reiterated previous demands it made to reduce the violation of human rights in the country.

These include an independent oversight body for law enforcement agencies, the repeal of laws deemed to undermine civil rights, the recognition of refugees and asylum seekers, the ratification of core international rights treaties, and a strengthening of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam).

Suaram was formed in 1987 as a response to the government crackdown on opposition leaders the same year. It has been in the spotlight in recent years over its pursuit of alleged corruption in Malaysia’s purchase of two Scorpene submarines from France, which has been linked to the murder of Mongolian Altantuya Shaariibuu.

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