Malaysia is spiralling into a dark era of repression as the government has launched an unprecedented crackdown through the Sedition Act over the past two years to silence, harass and lock up hundreds of critics, Amnesty International said in a new briefing today.
Critical Repression: Freedom of expression under attack in Malaysia shows how the use of the Sedition Act – which gives authorities sweeping powers to target those who oppose them - has skyrocketed since the Barisan Nasional coalition government narrowly won the 2013 general elections, with around 170 sedition cases in that period.
In 2015 alone, at least 91 individuals were arrested, charged or investigated for sedition – almost five times as many as during the law’s first 50 years of existence.
“Speaking out in Malaysia is becoming increasingly dangerous. The government has responded to challenges to its authority in the worst possible way, by tightening repression and targeting scores of perceived critics,” said Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s South East Asia Deputy Campaigns Director.
A Malaysian man sentenced to death in Singapore on the basis of a disputed murder reconstruction remains at imminent risk of execution and must be granted clemency, Amnesty International said after he was given a last-minute reprieve today.
Kho Jabing, 31, was due to be hanged tomorrow morning despite a lack of clarity about the circumstances of his crime and the fact his death sentence was re-imposed at the final stage in a 3:2 split decision.
He has been temporarily spared from death to allow the court to consider a last-minute appeal put forward on Kho Jabing's behalf. It is not clear at this stage when the case will be heard.
“Today’s stay of execution is no doubt a great relief for Kho Jabing and his loved ones, but it is only the first step,” said Josef Benedict, Campaigns Director for South East Asia and the Pacific at Amnesty International.
“The judges made their life-and-death decision despite significant uncertainty over the case and Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong must follow up this temporary reprieve by immediately granting him clemency, before it is too late.”
Malaysian authorities must immediately drop politically motivated charges against one of the country’s best-known cartoonists, who could face a long prison sentence for a series of tweets, Amnesty International said ahead of his trial, which is starting on 6 November.
Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, better known by his pen name Zunar, is facing nine charges under Malaysia’s draconian Sedition Act – a colonial-era law the government is using to harass and silence critics. The charges relate to a series of tweets critical of the government that Zunar sent after opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was jailed on sodomy charges in February 2015.
“These charges against Zunar are clearly politically motivated and must be dropped immediately. Zunar has for years highlighted government corruption and repression through his cartoons – this is what he is being punished for,” said Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s South East Asia Campaigns Director.
“It is absurd that Zunar is facing potentially decades in prison for a series of tweets.”
Malaysian authorities must halt plans to charge one of the organisers of a peaceful anti-government rally staged in August. These moves are clearly politically motivated and highlights a wider, vindictive push to silence others who took to the streets to voice their opposition, Amnesty International said.
Police are expected to charge Maria Chin Abdullah, chairperson of the NGO coalition Bersih 2.0, on Tuesday 3 November under the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) for failing to give prior notice of at least ten days for a demonstration.
In late August, Bersih 2.0 organised the Bersih 4 rally when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across Malaysia to voice frustration with government corruption and human rights issues.
“These vindictive charges against Maria Chin Abdullah are clearly politically motivated and should be dropped immediately. The authorities in Malaysia are trying to punish those who voice their opposition peacefully and create an overall climate of fear to deter other activists from doing the same,” said Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s South East Asia Campaigns Director.
The gathering pace of the Malaysian authorities’ far-reaching crackdown on human rights defenders, the media and opposition politicians in the wake of a corruption scandal allegedly involving Prime Minister Najib Razak is alarming and must end immediately, Amnesty International said.
“Malaysian authorities have responded to the 1MDB corruption scandal in predictable fashion – instead of genuinely trying to get to the truth of the corruption allegations and sanction those responsible, they have been harassing, silencing and locking up those demanding accountability,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Research Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
“The government’s assault on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly must end. Nobody should be arrested or charged simply for asking for transparency in the investigation of the 1MDB scandal or for the peaceful expression of their opinions.”
A new law that would allow terrorism suspects in Malaysia to be held indefinitely without charge, trial or judicial review, is a shocking onslaught against human rights and the rule of law, said Amnesty International.
“Indefinite detention without trial is contrary to human rights law and it will not stop terrorism. Abandoning people to rot in a cell for years on end without a judicial process and proof that they have committed a crime is just like aimlessly stabbing in the dark. Authorities must ensure that human rights and fair trial guarantees are respected and protected,” said Hazel Galang-Folli, Malaysia Researcher at Amnesty International.
Under the newly enacted Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), a board will be established to approve detention or restriction orders for individuals “in the interest of security of Malaysia”. A suspect can first be detained for 59 days without charge before being presented to the board. This body, which will be appointed by the King and will be outside of the jurisdiction of any court, will have the power to renew detention orders indefinitely. Its decisions cannot be appealed.
The arrests of scores of protesters as well as two human rights lawyers in separate incidents yesterday and today in Malaysia are the latest troubling signs of an escalating crackdown on freedom of expression and assembly, Amnesty International said today.
“These latest in a string of recent arrests point to a clear and worrying trend and reveal the very grim reality of the Malaysian authorities’ stance on upholding basic freedoms,” said Hazel Galang-Folli, Amnesty International’s Malaysia Researcher.
“The space for dissent and debate in Malaysia is rapidly shrinking, under the guise of punishing ‘sedition’ or maintaining public order.”
Mass detentions of protesters
Today (23 March) at least 79 protesters were arrested at a sit-in protest outside the Customs Department in the Petaling Jaya area of Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur. Around 40 riot police were sent to control the public action, and a “scuffle” was reported. Those arrested were among around 100 people protesting against a new Goods and Services Tax to be implemented in the coming weeks.
On 10 February 2015 Malaysia’s Federal Court, the highest court in the country, upheld the decision of an appeal court to overturn opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s acquittal on long-standing ‘sodomy’ charges, which date back to 2008, and sentenced him to five years in prison.
Amnesty International believes this is a deplorable judgment, and the latest chapter in the Malaysian authorities’ relentless attempts to silence government critics. This oppressive ruling will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in the country. The ‘sodomy’ charges against Anwar Ibrahim have always been politically motivated, and he should be released immediately.
Anwar Ibrahim is a prisoner of conscience – jailed solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression. Anwar Ibrahim stated that he is innocent of the charge; that it is the result of a political conspiracy to stop his political career - and that he will never surrender.
A Malaysian court’s decision to uphold a “sodomy” conviction against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and to hand him a five-year prison sentence is an oppressive ruling that will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in the country, Amnesty International said.
Malaysia’s Federal Court, the highest court in the country, today upheld the decision of an appeal court to overturn Anwar Ibrahim’s acquittal on long-standing ‘sodomy’ charges, which date back to 2008, and sentenced him to five years in prison.
“This is a deplorable judgment, and just the latest chapter in the Malaysian authorities’ relentless attempts to silence government critics. The ‘sodomy’ charges against Anwar Ibrahim have always been politically motivated, and he should be released immediately,” said Richard Bennett, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Director.
Malaysian authorities must immediately drop politically motivated sedition charges against a lawyer who could face up to three years in prison over a tweet criticizing an Islamic state agency, Amnesty International said.
Eric Paulsen, a human rights lawyer and co-founder of the NGO Lawyers for Liberty, was today charged under Malaysia’s Sedition Act for a tweet he sent on 12 January 2015. The tweet called on the government to prevent the Department of Islamic Development (Jakim) from “promoting extremism”.
“These politically motivated charges must be dropped immediately and unconditionally. It is ludicrous that someone could face three years in prison simply for a tweet critical of the authorities,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Research Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
“Eric Paulsen is a known human rights defender, and has been targeted simply for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression. If he is jailed, Amnesty International would consider him a prisoner of conscience.”
The Malaysian authorities should end their politically motivated persecution of government critics including Anwar Ibrahim, Amnesty International said ahead of the final decision in the long-standing ‘sodomy’ case against the opposition leader.
“The ‘sodomy’ charges against Anwar Ibrahim are clearly politically motivated and a blatant attempt by the Malaysian authorities to silence and undermine a critical voice. If Anwar Ibrahim is jailed, Amnesty International will consider him a prisoner of conscience,” said Richard Bennett, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Director.
“Tomorrow’s decision also has to be seen in the context of a wider clampdown on critics in Malaysia. Over the past months, the authorities have increasingly made use of draconian laws to silence opposition voices and other activists – this must end.”
The Malaysian authorities’ sedition investigation into opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is blatantly politically motivated and the latest move in a widespread crackdown on dissent using the colonial-era Sedition Act, Amnesty International said today.
Police in Malaysia this morning announced that they are re-opening a sedition investigation relating to a speech given by Anwar Ibrahim, criticizing the government, made during a political rally in March 2011. He will be questioned by police on Friday 26 September 2014 and is, according to one of his lawyers, likely to be charged under the Sedition Act.
“This case is clearly political and smacks of persecution – the investigation should be dropped immediately. Anwar Ibrahim has been a favourite target of the authorities for more than a decade, and this appears to be the latest attempt to silence and harass a critical voice,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director.
Opposition politicians, human rights activists, lawyers, students, academics and journalists are at risk of arbitrary arrest and imprisonment in Malaysia after an alarming rise in the use of the draconian Sedition Act in recent weeks. The law is being used to target individuals for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression
Since the beginning of August, at least eight people have been charged and are at risk of imprisonment for making so-called “seditious” statements under Malaysia’s Sedition Act. This includes five opposition politicians, a journalist and an academic who have been charged under Article 4 of the Sedition Act which criminalizes the use of seditious words and publications. Amnesty International is aware of at least 15 people charged or placed under investigation under the Act.
Malaysia’s ban on Christians using the word “Allah” to refer to God is an abuse against free speech and must be scrapped, Amnesty International said after the country’s highest court upheld the controversial government ban.
“This ban violates the right to freedom of expression. The idea that non-Muslims could face prosecution for using a particular word is deeply disturbing,” said Amnesty International’s Malaysia researcher, Hazel Galang-Folli.
“This ban is not just repressive, it is also dangerous. It risks further inflaming religious tensions in Malaysia by denying its people the right to freedom of religion.”
The Malaysian government introduced the ban in 2007 after the word “Allah” was used in a Malay-language edition of the Catholic Church’s newspaper, the Herald.
The Church appealed against the ban, arguing that “Allah” had been used to refer to the Christian God for centuries in Malay-language Bibles and other non-Muslim literature.