Malaysia all talk and no action, says Human Rights Watch

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 25 — Repressive practices by the government show that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s pledge to “uphold civil liberties” was little more than “an empty promise”, said the Human Rights Watch said today after releasing its World Report 2011.

“The Malaysian government is all talk and no action when it comes to human rights,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Prime Minister Najib and his ministers are mistaken if they think that floating ‘trial balloons’ to make badly needed changes to laws and policies is enough to keep Malaysian civil society and the international community at bay.

“Malaysia has a long way to go to be the rights-respecting nation that its government leaders claim it to be,” he added.

The 649-page report by the non-profit human rights watchdog was its 21st annual review of human rights practices around the globe and summarises major human rights trends in more than 90 countries and territories worldwide.

Reporting on Malaysia’s human rights record in 2010, it said that the government “gagged critics, kept hundreds in detention without charge or trial, and restricted the rights to freedom of assembly and association, despite pledges made during Malaysia’s successful campaign for election to the United Nations Human Rights Council.”

It added that the government “does not hesitate to use draconian laws to harass or gag journalists critical of the authorities, human rights defenders, civil society activists, or members of the political opposition.”

In a year that marked the 50th anniversary of the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for detention without trial, promised government action to reform security-related laws permitting preventive detention never materialised, Human Rights Watch said.

The government not only continued to use the ISA but further expanded its definition of what constitutes a security issue by wider application of existing law, it added.

The government also continued to use the Police Act 1967 to harass or ban peaceful public protests, marches, or meetings by opposition politicians and activists, said the NGO.

The report stated that officials harassed journalists, confiscated published materials for review, banned publications outright or suspended them for activities allegedly beyond the scope of their publishing licence, and suspended publications while annual reviews of licences, required under the 1984 Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA), were negotiated.

It added that the political cartoonist Zulkifli Anwar Ulhaque, or Zunar, was charged with sedition and several of his books were banned as Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein claimed the books commented in a negative way on the legal system and on religion, and were detrimental to public order.

The Home Ministry again denied Malaysiakini, a web-based daily newspaper, a licence for a print edition, despite applying annually since 2002, said Human Rights Watch.

Power to deny or revoke a licence is granted to the home minister under the 1984 Printing Presses and Publications Act. His decisions cannot be challenged.

The watchdog also said that Najib backtracked from his vision of a media sector which could “report what they see, without fear of consequence” when in September 2010 a government investigation of websites and social networking pages was followed by Najib saying that “those going against the law, whether it is defamation or whether it is inciting racial hatred, religious hatred, then you have to be responsible for your actions.”

It also said that Malaysia’s amendments to the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act will likely reduce protection for trafficking victims as well as smuggled migrant workers.

Human Rights Watch called on the government to revoke the ISA and other “arbitrary and preventive detention measures” and the PPPA.

It also said that the definition of sedition should be narrowed and the Police Act amended for reasonable conditions for assembly.

Amendments to the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act that conflate human trafficking and the smuggling of people should also be revoked and replaced with new legislation that protect the rights of victims of trafficking, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, it said.

According to its website, Human Rights Watch was established in 1978 to protect the human rights of people around the world by standing with victims and activists to prevent discrimination, uphold political freedom, protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime and to bring offenders to justice.

MI

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