More Malaysians aware of rights, but violations abound, activists say

Malaysians have become more empowered although human rights violations by those in power have escalated since the 2008 general election, two activists told a forum last night.

Malaysians have become more empowered although human rights violations by those in power have escalated since the 2008 general election, two activists told a forum last night.

They said more people came out to partcipate in public rallies despite the ocassional intimidation and physical abuse by the police.

The activists said civil society and prominent individuals had also moved and organised themselves to provide leadership where those elected have failed to demonstrate this quality.

Lawyer Syahredzan Johan said human rights in custodial deaths, freedom of speech and religion had come under severe threat, especially after Barisan Nasional (BN) lost its traditional two-thirds majority in Parliament in 2008.

“Death in custody has gone up and so far this year alone there are 10 reported deaths in police lock-ups,” he said at the forum entitled “Five Years After Teoh Beng Hock: Human Rights & Political Justice” held at the Kuala Lumpur-Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall.

Syahredzan, who is also a Bar Council member, said police and prosecutors used the Sedition Act in their attempt to silence political dissidents, just because some purportedly took to the streets to protest the Election Commission’s failure to hold free and fair elections last year.

“However, no action was forthcoming when Malay right wing groups like Perkasa and Isma and Umno members made inflamatory speeches and carried out acts deemed seditious,” he said.

Syahredzan noted that many middle-class Malaysians came out in droves during the 2012 rally organised by electoral reforms coalition, Bersih 2.0.

“This shows Malaysians have become more empowered and they are willing to defend their rights as guaranteed under the Federal Constitution,” he said.

Bersih chairman Maria Chin Abdullah recalled there was no civil society when the police arrested activists and politicians under the now repealed Internal Security Act (ISA) in 1987.

“We had to organise activities in a state of fear of the police special branch but this is not the case now,” said Maria, whose late husband Yunus Ali was one of the ISA detainees.

She compared the 200,000 crowd who came out to protest during the Bersih rally in 2012 with the 100 people who had congregated in support of the detainees and their families in 1987.

“Such massive support has given civil society leaders the moral courage and strength to tell the government to mend its ways,” she added.

Maria also noted an interesting development where civil society leaders had grouped to provide leadership where those in power had failed.

“We can govern the nation much better than the current set of political leaders with fresh ideas,” she said in an apparent reference to the setting up of Negara-Ku, which said it wanted to promote unity, peace and harmony.

DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang, who also spoke at the forum, lamented that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had promised Beng Hock’s family that “no stone will be left unturned” to find out the cause of death, but nothing had come by.

“The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s recent statement that the three MACC officers implicated in the death of Beng Hock by a Royal Commission of Inquiry had been cleared of indiscipline is much regretted,” he said.

Lim said the RCI committed a great flaw when it failed to pin responsibility for Beng Hock’s death on the MACC although there was overwhelming evidence.

Lawyer Gobind Singh Deo said Beng Hock’s tragic death calls for laws to hold those responsible for causing death of detainees while in custody.

“The perpertrators of the crime should be personally held liable,” he said, adding that victims’ families should have full access to information for them to initiate legal action.

Gobind, who is Puchong MP, said coroners should be empowered to carry out independent probe with the assistance of full fledged support staff like forensic pathologist.

“Now we have a situation of police assisting coroners when officers from the law enforcement agency are acccused for causing custodial deaths,” he added.

On January 5, 2011, coroner Azmil Muntapha Abas returned an open verdict on Beng Hock’s death, saying it was neither a suicide nor a homicide.

Beng Hock, who was the political aide to Seri Kembangan assemblyman Ean Yong Hian Wah, was found dead on July 16, 2009 on the fifth floor of Plaza Masalam in Shah Alam.

He was at Plaza Masalam, where the MACC office was then located, to have his statement recorded over his boss’s alleged abuse of state funds.

The High Court in a revision, upheld the coroner’s open verdict that there were pre-fall injuries on Beng Hock’s neck, but concluded that there was insufficient evidence to point towards assault.

The Court of Appeal is due to deliver its verdict on the case next month.-