Human Rights in Malaysia – Najib, No action, talk only

K Pragalath | January 23, 2012

HRW's latest report claims that the government's efforts in promoting human rights leave a lot to be desired.

PETALING JAYA: The state of human rights in Malaysia is filled with promises of reforms and politicians backtracking their words, according to Human Rights Watch’s 22nd annual report entitled World Report 2012 that was released yesterday.

The report looked into eight key issues in Malaysia but the one main issue was Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim’s Sodomy II trial.

HRW noted that Anwar’s legal team was denied access to the prosecution’s witness list, critical forensic samples for independent examination, and medical examiners’ notes from hospital examinations of the accuser – all in violation of international fair trial standards.

Anwar has since been acquitted on Jan 9 due to questionable DNA evidence and the Attorney General’s Chambers has filed an appeal last week.

Violations against freedom of expression, association and assembly are also well documented in the report, through the Bersih rally on July 9 last year and the detention of six political activists under the Emergency Ordinance.

“Malaysia’s leaders are fooling themselves by thinking they can backtrack on public promises to respect the rights to demonstrate peacefully and criticize the government without fear.

“The more Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and government politicians play their game of big talk, with little action on rights, the more they should expect popular pushback,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia region at Human Rights Watch on these violations.

Media censorship

Under the sub-heading of media censorship, HRW stated that Home Ministry has continued to deny online news portal Malaysiakini rights to publish newspapers on the grounds that publishing permit was “a privilege,” not a right.

It also criticised the proposed reforms on the Printing Presses and Publications Act. Under the reform measures, annual licensing for print has been revoked but the Home Minister retains broad authority, without judicial review, to refuse permission to publish anything he determines “likely to be prejudicial to public order, morality, security … or national interest.”

The report also highlighted Najib’s announcement to repeal the controversial Internal Security Act 1960 and the revocation of the three emergency proclamations and the review of the Restricted Residence Act.

“However, he committed to introducing two new laws under article 149 (Special Laws against Subversion) of the Federal Constitution, which allows parliament to enact sweeping security provisions that deny basic freedoms.

The Malaysia – Australia refugee swap deal signed on July 25, but eventually cancelled, was also criticised in the report because Malaysia has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention which means that Malaysia had failed to differentiate refugees, asylum seekers, trafficking victims, and undocumented migrants.

The swap deal would have permitted Australia to send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia for refugee screening in exchange for 4,000 refugees. However an Australian High Court judgment deemed the swap deal as illegal.

The Malaysian Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act was also rubbished as it failed to provide protection to the victims

Sexual orientation

Under the topic of sexual orientation and gender identity, the government’s refusal to repeal Article 377B of the Penal Code, which criminalizes consensual “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”, was criticised.

HRW highlighted the banning of Seksualiti Merdeka which was a seven day festival for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to express their issues.

It also highlighted the case of Aleesha Farhnan Abdul Aziz who failed to compel the National Registration Department to recognise him as a female.

The HRW was also concerned about the freedom of religion among the minorities following a raid by the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department on Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC).

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