We are happy to announce SUARAM’s Annual Human Rights Report 2019 is now available for purchase at our office. Please contact our office at + (6)03 7954 5724 or email us at suaram(at)suaram.net.
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A year after the historic 14th General Election, the optimism for institutional reforms has largely evaporated with the repeated U-turns and inconsistency by the Pakatan Harapan administration. Human rights values that were found within Pakatan Harapan’s election manifesto driving the reform initiatives were gradually swamped and superseded by disagreement between political factions and political manoeuvring within the ruling coalition.
Within a little more than a year, we have seen Malaysia sign and withdraw from the Rome Statute; advocated for the complete abolition of the death penalty to reviewing the use of mandatory death penalty; repealing the Sedition Act 1948 to using the Sedition Act 1948 for alleged hate speech; challenging an opposition state for encroaching upon indigenous peoples rights and subsequently encroaching upon it themselves, and countless other policy U-turns.
The security laws opposed by Pakatan Harapan when they were the opposition are now an accepted tool of the administration with continued application and abuse of the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA), the Prevention of Crime Act 1960 (POCA), the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015 (POTA) and the Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Measures) Act 1985. These laws continue to play a central role in ‘crime prevention’ with numbers of arrest and detention without trial continuing at an even pace. The arrest of twelve individual for alleged involvement in the Liberations Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) reignited the public debate on the application of SOSMA and the potential abuses of the law, despite the position adopted by the Attorney General, prosecution persists by various deputy public prosecutor. The age-old tactic of harassing family members, associates of the victims and civil society by police continues to flourish despite the change in administration.
Access to Justice continues to be restricted under Pakatan Harapan with new cases of torture and other forms of abuses by the Royal Malaysian Police and the continued inaction towards the four victims of enforced disappearance. The shooting of three individuals for alleged involvement with organized crime in September 2019 continues to mystify the country. The case highlights the inadequate and often times non-existent mechanism for redress in the event of serious and gross violations of human rights by enforcement agencies.
The early optimism that the Sedition Act 1948 would be a relic of the past turns out to be a mirage as the Pakatan Harapan administration doubling down on the law as a tool to address ‘hate speech’. The existing laws criminalizing expression has been utilized as a means to crackdown and restrict public discourse or critical comments on Race, Royalty and Religion (3R), politicians and selected quarters that spouts hate speech or advocate for violence or other forms of discrimination is seemingly unfettered by these laws and allowed to operate as they please.
In terms of freedom of assembly, Malaysians were offered an imaginary ‘carrot’ when Pakatan Harapan amended the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012. The relaxing of the existing provision requiring 10-days’ notice and introduction of a compound for violation of the law solves none of the existing concerns while introducing new avenues for potential restriction. While some district police headquarters have seemingly learned to appreciate the rights afforded under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution, the same could not be said of the police force in general nor other private and public actors who continue to play an active role in suppressing the right to peaceful assembly.
The preliminary study for electoral reform at the legislative continues at an even pace with limited changes with regards to electoral offences on the ground. Five by-elections were held in 2019, each of them mired with electoral offences committed by different parties contesting for the seats. The issue of redelineation inherited from the previous administration continues to be a problem for the electoral process as the law prevents any other redelineation exercise in the near future. Fundamentally, electoral laws did not change in 2019 apart from the amendment to reduce the legal age of voting to 18 from 21, and the inclusion of automatic voter registration which has yet to be implemented.
Issues pertaining to gender and sexuality continue to be the scapegoat for the administration in 2019. The hostile tone adopted by the Pakatan Harapan administration in 2018 has seemingly grown in tandem with the rising rhetoric of race and religion in 2019. The Women March 2019 was investigated by the police as a result of more visible support for the LGBTIQ community in general. The march was also condemned by various ministers for the inclusion of LGBTIQ voices. 2019 was also marked by the infamous case where a state religious department instituted caning against individuals who were convicted of sexual relations between women without adequate representation.
The death penalty continues to be under review by the administration throughout 2019 with the 2018 moratorium in force. As the administration has backed away from the total abolition of the death penalty to the abolition of the mandatory death penalty, a task force was established by the administration to evaluate the alternatives to punishment in lieu of mandatory death penalty. In contrast to the slow pace of reform by the administration, the judiciary took a notable step forward with regards to the issue of the death penalty when it decided upon the constitutionality of Section 37B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, a key provision that reverses the burden of proof in trial and results in hundreds of conviction for drug trafficking annually.