Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) launched our Human Rights Report 2019 Overview on 9 December 2019, on the eve of human rights days celebration for the year.
2019 was a politically tumultuous year with the growing concern of Pakatan Harapan veering off course from their commitment to the Harapan Manifesto. Human rights commitment made under the manifesto has been largely unfulfilled with growing scepticism as to whether the Pakatan Harapan has any political will to fulfil its commitments to human rights after the various backtracking and u-turning in 2018.
Detention without trial continues to be an active facet of ‘crime prevention’ in Malaysia with massive numbers of arrest and detention taking place under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, the Prevention of Crime Act 2015 and the Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Measures) Act 1985. From SUARAM’s documentation from 2019, more than 2,000 individuals have been arrested and detained under these laws, an increase from the preceding year 2018. The commitment to review these laws are also stymied by the support from minister such as Mohamad Sabu.
The reported cases of custodial death in police detention marks an all-time low and an improvement for the Royal Malaysian Police. However, the improvement on this front is marred by the allegation of severe misconduct with regards to the case of a police shooting involving Janarthanan Vijayratnam and two others. One last member of the group who was reported missing by the family members after the incident remained unaccounted for. The allegation of abuse and torture by the 12 alleged LTTE detainees also raises a new round of concern that no reform has taken place as the harrowing experience recounted by some of the detainees’ echo many of those exposed by SUARAM in 2015 and 2016.
The greater freedom for expression enjoyed by Malaysia in 2018 has largely evaporated with a renewed effort to restrict expression by the state. Human rights defenders and political activists are still investigated by the Royal Malaysian Police for expressing their views or challenging abuse by the state. While the Sedition Act 1948 and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 has not been extensively abused for political purpose as observed in 2017 and 2018, it has become a commonplace for individuals to be detained and prosecuted for any offensive commentaries against race, religion and royalty, even when the offensive comment was a mere allegation.
Organisers of peaceful assembly are still subjected to a varying degree of harassment and intimidation with organisers frequently called for investigations by the Royal Malaysian Police. The Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 remains the staple go-to for any investigation despite assurances by the police that there are no objections to the assembly in meetings leading up to the event. Organisers of the women march were notably investigated under the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 and the Sedition Act 1948 despite such assurances.
Human rights principles espoused by civil society organisations are not a western construct that has no applicability in Malaysia. They are principles that reflect the fundamental rights guaranteed for under the Federal Constitution when it first came to be in 1957. The years of repression and violation by Barisan Nasional has eroded and devastated many of the rights enjoyed by Malaysians and most have forgotten what these rights represent for all Malaysians.
Pakatan Harapan who won the 14th General Election on the platform of institutional reform and a new Malaysia must not shy away from the narrative of reform and continue to bear the torch against the onslaught of misinformation and attempts of sabotage by political opponents and those who wish to see the reform agenda fail. The era where the government violate fundamental rights and freedoms with impunity and rule through fear ended on 9 May 2018 when the first change of administration took place. The change on 9May 2019 was not the mark of a new era, but merely the end of one.
An era of Malaysia Baru only comes when the administration recovers and strengthen the fundamental freedoms and democratic norms provided for by the Federal Constitution.