10 Downing Street
Saturday, 28 April 2012
Dear Prime Minister Cameron,
We are members of SUARAM International, the international advocacy wing of SUARAM, a prominent Malaysian human rights organisation that works to defend and promote civil liberties in Malaysia.
We hope you had a pleasant visit to Malaysia. However, ordinary Malaysian citizens and pro-democracy and human rights groups worldwide were disappointed and appalled at your flippant endorsement of Prime Minister Najib and his government during your visit, as they blatantly refuse to embrace electoral reform and continue to systematically trample on the basic human rights and civil liberties of their own people.
On the world stage, from Harare to Rangoon, the British government has sought to promote its role in promoting democracy and human rights. In the face of increasing international criticism from numerous human rights bodies concerning Malaysia’s abysmal human rights record, you and your government chose to turn a blind eye, putting business and trade before transparency, good governance and the basic human rights of ordinary Malaysian citizens.
How should Malaysians reconcile this contradiction? What the people of Malaysia see is a relationship of ethically-deficit trade: ‘aid’ as sweeteners to lucrative contracts: £1 billion to British arms manufacturers ‘won’ by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; the Malaysian governments illegal ‘appropriation’ of £234 million from the Overseas Development Aid budget to subsidise construction of the Pergau Dam, also illegally linked to an arms deal with the Malaysian government. We believe this irresponsible relationship only helps to strengthen a corrupt regime’s hold on power and pays little regard to the plight of ordinary Malaysians struggling for democratic reform and greater civil liberties.
1. THE SECURITY OFFENCES (SPECIAL MEASURES) ACT 2012
Less than two weeks have passed since the Malaysian parliament’s lower house hurriedly approved, without amendments, the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act on 17 April 2012 – a mere seven days after it was first tabled and in spite of strong opposition from civil society in Malaysia and internationally.
Although it replaces the much-criticized Internal Security Act (ISA), the Security Offences Act still falls well below international human rights standards and its provisions restrict a range of fundamental rights. Individuals suspected of vaguely defined security offences could be detained for up to 28 days without charge or access to court. The Act also grants police significant discretionary power to detain suspects incommunicado for 48 hours and to intercept any communications without judicial authority. A highly restrictive Peaceful Assembly Act was similarly passed in haste in November 2011, without proper consultation with civil society.
We were therefore dismayed at your decision, during your trip, to implicitly “pat” Malaysian Prime Minister Najib “on the back” for this half-hearted legislative reform. It is no surprise that sections of the Security Offences Act were passed within days of you prematurely praising Najib for his “determination to engage in political reform and tackle Malaysia’s outdated security law”. We believe that your reluctance to squarely engage the Malaysian government on its poor human rights record and lack of electoral reform, in favour of a profitable pro-trade stance, has helped to sanction this draconian Security Offences Act.
SUARAM International actively supports BERSIH, a coalition of 84 Malaysian non-government organisations and thousands of individuals dedicated to a clean and fair electoral process in Malaysia. BERSIH – which means ‘clean’ – is a campaign aimed at a thorough “clean up” of the Malaysian electoral system.
The first BERSIH rally took place in 2007 and the second, BERSIH 2.0, in July 2011. Pictures were then relayed of law enforcement officials using excessive force to disperse peaceful demonstrators in Kuala Lumpur. Amidst widespread international public condemnation, police also detained or arrested close to 1,700 people in connection with the protest.
Prime Minister, the week after this despicable abuse of his own people, Najib led a Malaysian delegation to London that met with you and other prominent members of your government and London business leaders. Many concerned Malaysians worldwide met this with public outrage.
You will recall the ‘yellow protests’ – calling on you and your government to condemn Najib’s ruthless crackdown on his own people – that were held outside Downing Street, the Lord Mayor’s Office and at Hyde Park Corner. We also refer you to Simon Tisdall’s article in The Guardian ‘Malaysia’s Najib Must Abandon the Mubarak Model’ (13 July 2011) where he reminded you and your government that, as Najib came touting for business, you ‘had a chance to show him that strong arm tactics against protestors are unacceptable’.
2.1. BERSIH 3.0: DUDUK BANTAH
BERSISH 3.0 has called for a public protest to be held today, Saturday, April 28, in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, and other cities across Malaysia to draw attention to the latest oppressive electoral amendments and to raise awareness of the dire consequences these will have on Malaysian civil liberties.
This event is called DUDUK BANTAH (sit down protest) to reflect the peaceable, grassroots message of the BERSIH movement. In 80 cities around the world, Malaysians and their friends will rally in solidarity with those protesting in Malaysia, who will risk their personal safety to demand free and fair elections.
In the UK, BERSIH 3.0 supporters will be congregating at: Old Palace Yard in London; Meadows Park in Edinburgh; Grey’s Monument in Newcastle; and St Ann’s Square in Manchester. In London, Suaram International has invited several prominent MPs, in particular the members of the All-Party Parliamentary Groups for Malaysia and for Human Rights, to meet with us at Parliament Square to show their support.
BERSIH 3.0 supporters will be campaigning for the implementation of BERSIH’s 8 core demands to ensure that the next federal election– the 13th since independence – will be clean and fair. These demands are:
1.Clean the electoral roll
2. Reform postal ballot
3. Use of indelible ink
4. Minimum 21 days campaign period
5. Free and fair access to media
6. Strengthen public institutions
7. Stop corruption
8. Stop dirty politics
2.2. The Election Commission (EC) and Electoral Reform
The Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition government, which has ruled uninterrupted for 55 years, is preparing to call federal elections. History has shown that elections in Malaysia are conducted corruptly to maintain BN’s rule. Independent inquiries and analysis of electoral rolls have uncovered the following irregularities:
- Over 400,000 dubious voters are on the electoral roll, enough to swing 35 federal seats and decide if BN reclaims its two-thirds super-majority in parliament or the Opposition PR becomes the new government;
- 31,294 voters have been transferred out of their 2008 constituencies without consent;
- 42,000 voters whose status as citizens cannot be verified by the National Registration Department are still on the roll;
- The electoral rolls carry 65,543 voters who are 85 years of age and older, and 1000 voters aged over 100 years;
- 15,855 voters on the roll have identification card numbers of a different gender from that listed by the EC;
- 4,500 spouses of police officers are registered as postal voters – in breach of the law.
This abuse of the electoral process must be effectively addressed and remedied to ensure clean, free and fair elections, including as follows:
o Fair representation in delineation of parliamentary constituencies – discrepancy in the number of voters in different constituencies should not exceed 15% as existed at the time of Independence; (It is now as big as 2000% in some cases, eg. Putrajaya compared to Kapar)
o Strengthen public institutions involved in the electoral process, including the judiciary, the Election Commission, police, MACC and broadcasting media to ensure their independence and professionalism;
o Clean up the electoral roll;
o Automatic voting eligibility from the age of 18 using identity card;
o Reform postal voting to ensure transparency and to enfranchise Malaysian citizens abroad;
o Minimum of 21 days for electoral campaigning;
o Election offences should include all unethical practices such as religious or communal appeal, false statements, defamatory or personal attacks, wilful distortions, unproven allegations, racist, racial or other forms of intolerant statements against women, minorities and marginalized groups;
o Curb corruption and vote buying by compulsory auditing of all election expenses, campaign financing; full disclosure of sources of financing and expenditure, and setting a limit on campaign expenditure;
o Free and fair access to the media for all parties;
o Invite international election observers as a norm in general elections for greater credibility;
o Use indelible ink to prevent multiple voting.
The Election Commission, who openly describes themselves as “government servants”, has failed to take any positive or decisive action. Indeed, the EC has actively obstructed any progress towards establishing a full and transparent review of the electoral process, and has failed to take urgent remedial action where glaring irregularities in electoral rolls have been exposed.
One of BERSIH’s demands is the resignation of the leadership of Malaysia’s EC. It has shown itself to be far from independent and complicit in BN’s systemic abuse. Legislative reforms passed ‘on the nod’ on 19 April 2012 allow the government, its agents and the EC full, exclusive freedom to register as many voters as they choose, manipulate the election process, centrally implement the poll and count votes without question by candidates or independent observers.
Up to a million Malaysians living overseas (10% of the Malaysian electorate) are prohibited from voting. Over 100,000 Malaysians resident in the UK may vote in the UK elections but not for their own national government due to laws that defy the Malaysian Constitution and international human rights standards. The ‘agenda’ is clear when you consider that overseas resident Malaysians ‘bound’ to the government (for example, government sponsored students, Malaysian military personnel and civil servants, as well as their spouses) are permitted a postal vote. The result is no surprise: laws excluding all other expatriate Malaysians ensure that up to 90% of postal votes go to BN.
Malaysia has consistently refused access to international election-watch groups since the 1990 General Election. In 1990, the representatives of the Commonwealth Observer Mission were permitted to observe polling. However, the incumbent Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohammad, suppressed their report.
BERSIH 3.0 believes that international observers are a pre-requisite in the monitoring, scrutiny and reporting before, during and after the elections.
The Malaysian government’s scare tactics
SUARAM International is extremely concerned about the government’s harassment and intimidation of peaceful protesters or those associated with BERSIH. On 20 April, Mr. Tan Hong Kai, an intern of SUARAM, was arrested on an allegation of trespassing while putting up BERSIH posters in University Science Malaysia; he was released later that day on police bail. On 22 April, the Kuala Lumpur City Council (DBKL) and police officers raided a protest campsite at the Merdeka Square and arrested two activists under Section 186 of the Penal Code (obstructing public servants from performing their duties); they were released later that day on police bail. On 24 April, the authorities again arrested three student activists and one supporter.
The Malaysian authorities must cease harassing and intimidating people who are peacefully exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights.
Ms. Debbie Stothard, Deputy Secretary General of FIDH has stated, “As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Malaysia should take all necessary measures to fully protect and facilitate the right to peaceful assembly and expression of opinions. The heavy-handed crackdown of last year’s BERSIH rally has not yet been accounted for, yet the government is already beginning a new round of intimidation and obstruction.”
THE ROLE OF THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT
Prime Minister, we call upon you and your government to make urgent representations to Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and the Malaysian government urging them to implement electoral reform and cease the intimidation and harassment of citizen activists and human rights defenders with immediate effect.
We urge you to send a strong message to the Malaysian government that there will be no British trade or investment initiatives until they adhere to international human rights standards and sign the UN International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and ratify the UN Convention Against Torture.
We ask that you offer election observers to attend and witness the imminent elections in Malaysia.
Finally, we would be happy to meet with you to discuss the issues raised in this letter.
Yolanda Augustin Cynthia Gabriel Enalini Elumalai
Lead Coordinator Executive Director Executive Director
SUARAM International SUARAM SUARAM
19 Florence Street
London N1 2DX