Postponing Human Rights and Empowering Politics of Hate

SUARAM regrets the turn of events which resulted in the postponement of the Human Rights Day celebration organized by SUHAKAM and the suggestions that the celebration was a counter-rally against the Anti-ICERD rally organized by the opposition party.

Continue reading “Postponing Human Rights and Empowering Politics of Hate”


Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser at the launch of SUARAM’S MALAYSIAN HUMAN RIGHTS OVERVIEW 2017, KLSCAH 7 December 2017

Events in 2017 have focused attention on economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) that are not covered in SUARAM’s monitoring of civil & political rights, namely, the hillslope collapse in Penang which killed 11 migrant workers and 1 Malaysian supervisor; deforestation such as at Merapoh, Pahang leading to flash floods and landslides; the pollution of dams in various states; the privatisation of public parks in TTDI and Penang Botanical Gardens; the property glut and the lack of affordable housing; rising wealth inequality and wealth concentration.

With the approaching general election, these are issues which the two coalitions need to address. The protection of economic, social and cultural rights requires rigorously applied regulation, good governance and accountability since otherwise billions of taxpayers’ monies are squandered. Thus, while we welcome the RCI report on the forex losses 20 years ago, we expect the government to have a standard operating procedure on setting up such RCIs the moment any financial scandal has surfaced. Such an accountable governance practice would thus include inquiries into all the other scandals since the 80s and especially the most recent 1MDB scandal. It would also be mandatory that RCI recommendations are expeditiously carried out and not ignored as in the case of the Independent Police Complaints & Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).

Economic, social, and cultural rights include the human right to work, the right to an adequate standard of living, including food, clothing, and housing, the right to physical and mental health, the right to social security, the right to a healthy environment, and the right to education.

Forcible evictions continue to be a common practice, especially when land has been targeted by developers, in which long established urban settlers and plantation communities are uprooted with scant regard for their economic, social and cultural rights. The right to potable drinking water is seriously compromised by the poisoning of the water supply by illegal factories near dams. Reports suggest this occurs in many states including Selangor and Malacca and for some mysterious reason, the authorities have not yet acted to evict these illegal factories.

Many schools in Sarawak, Sabah and Tamil schools in the peninsula are in such poor physical condition that they are a risk to safety. Chinese and Tamil-medium schools are built as general election goodies, one at a time rather than according to population growth and the requests of parents.

Migrant lives matter

Most of the victims of these ESCR violations are migrants and it is time that the Malaysian authorities, their corporate partners and all employers recognise that “migrant lives matter”. Notice that when air pollution reaches hazardous levels and schools are closed, work carries on at the construction sites! During the recent hillslope collapse in Penang, media attention was focused on the death of the sole Malaysian supervisor while there was little mention of the fate of the 11 migrants who lost their lives or whether their families had been compensated adequately. The media also recently highlighted the appalling living quarters in which migrant workers continue to be housed, especially on construction sites although this has been going on for decades. The irony is apparent as without the blood sweat and tears of these amazing men and women we would have no tall glistening glass apartment towers to state that we have arrived in the 21st Century. Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers also suffer discrimination in access to medical care, work, housing and education.

Who is raising wealth redistribution in GE14?

Wealth inequality and wealth concentration in Malaysia is rising. The distribution of wealth shows that the top 10% of Malaysian households control 35% of the country’s wealth, while the bottom 40% own just 8% of the national wealth.

The Finance Ministry has just revealed that some 4 percent of Amanah Saham Nasional Bhd (ASNB) unit trust holders control nearly half of the RM200 billion net asset value (NAV) or RM100 billion worth of units. In contrast, those who own less than 1,000 units, which form the bulk of fund unitholders (61 percent), have a combined value of only RM1.7 billion in units (0.8 percent of NAV).

According to Forbes, Malaysia’s 50 richest persons have a total wealth of US$70 billion, or RM280 billion. Total government revenue is only RM180 billion, out of which individual income tax revenue accounts for only RM30 billion. Inheritance tax in Malaysia was abolished in 1991.

Wage stagnation poses a real problem to Malaysia’s effort to become a “high-income” nation by 2020 while employers continue to prefer hiring cheap foreign labour and refusing to introduce the minimum wage of RM1,000 that went into effect in 2016. Yet the 2015 median income of half the Malaysian population is just RM600 more than the pay given to foreign labourers. The median monthly salaries & wages received by paid employees was RM1,703 in 2016. The standard of living for the bottom 40% will continue to be depressed as long as the economy depends on millions of low-wage foreign workers. Meanwhile, the cost of living continues to rise. Unionization has been a problem for decades especially in industries such as electronics.

According to the EPF, as of 2015, two-thirds of members aged 54 have RM50,000 or less in their accounts. This amount is likely to be used up within five years of retirement.

Yet none of the political parties in the two coalitions is raising the issue of wealth redistribution in the GE14? Do they even plan to implement progressive taxation of the rich, curb speculation and tax evasion?

Or are they in the pockets of the rich, especially the big developers who seem to have their way in the privatisation of our commons, the common spaces demarcated for communal enjoyment?

Reclaim our public assets

Does PH have any plan to reclaim our public assets especially public utilities that were privatized during the reign of Dr M; to strengthen public sector health, education, housing and transport services including highways; to regulate financial transactions and speculation; to re-gazette all permanent forest and wildlife reserves; to ensure all local people are consulted before any development proceeds; to protect the rights of farmers and fisherfolk and create a national food security policy with a push for food agriculture instead of commodities such as palm oil; to distribute land fairly to all genuine farmers; to promote renewable energy projects that do not destroy forests or Orang Asal land.

During Mahathir’s reign, thousands of indigenous peoples were displaced for the Bakun Dam and other mega dams in Sarawak and the Selangor Dam while vast wealth has been reaped by those who have exploited and owned more and more of our commons. To take the Bakun Dam as an example, timber from an area the size of Singapore island was extracted by Ekran Bhd and on top of their failure to carry through the Bakun HEP project, Malaysian taxpayers still had to compensate the company to the tune of RM1 billion.

Developers today seem to have both coalitions, BN & PH in their pockets as they carve out more and more “Eco worlds” out of the pristine jungle and reclaim more and more land on our coastal shores that are all part of our commons. These incursions into hillslope jungles and our beaches have created havoc with the environment as we have seen in recent weeks. Now we hear that the Penang State Government wants to corporatise Penang Botanical gardens while a public park in TTDI is to be developed for condominiums. Permanent forest reserves & structure plans can be degazetted at will of the state government. In Selangor, the privatisation of our water assets remains unresolved. It is often said, “You can tell if a society is democratic if its water is available to everyone, if it’s clean, and in public hands.”

Our collective ownership of the commons is our birthright – it is our birthright to hold water, air, land and Malaysian nature in trust for our future generations. We must continue our efforts to push for the protection and restoration of our commons and to defend it against the attempts by developers and their political allies to privatise our commons. There is an English folk poem from the 18th century enclosure movement that reminds us of the court cases over the blockades by the indigenous peoples against encroachments by timber merchants and developers:

They hang the man and flog the woman

That steal the goose from off the common

But let the greater villain loose

That steals the common from the goose.”


SUARAM Human Rights Report 2017 Overview – Digital Edition (ENG) download. Click HERE


Royal Malaysian Police is NOT a Tool for Political Crackdown!

For Immediate Release
7 April 2016

Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) strongly condemns the arrest of youth activists and political leaders in the past week and the threats issued by the Inspector-General of Police against opposition Members of Parliament.

The arrest of Shazni Murni and Shukri Kamarudin under the Sedition Act 1948; the arrest of Muhammad Zhafran under Section 504 of the Penal Code; the arrest of YB Rafizi Ramli under the Official Secrets Act 1972; and the arrest of YB Chan Ming Kai under Section 186 of the Penal Code can only be described as the start of a political crackdown against youth activists and political leaders. There is no legitimate justification for the arrest and the detention of these individuals. The Royal Malaysian Police as the keeper of peace and security should not be exercising their power for political reasons as they have in these cases.

Further, Members of Parliament are elected representative of the people and must be allowed to perform the duties expected of them. These duties would naturally include the protection and promotion of their rights as Members of Parliament. The protest against the treatment of a fellow parliamentarian and the show of solidarity expressed by opposition Member of Parliaments should not and cannot be subjected to threats by the Inspector-General of Police.

Threats issued against any Members of Parliament in such a manner should be construed as threat to Parliamentary democracy as it posed a direct and immediate threat to the Parliament and those who sit within. The Inspector-General of Police would do well to remember the role of the Royal Malaysian Police and put an end to the unnecessary interference against Parliamentary activities.

Recalling Malaysia’s support shown by the Government of Malaysia for the United Nations General Assembly’s resolution on the protection of human rights defenders[1], SUARAM reminds the Government of Malaysia and all associated government agencies to remember the obligations it has undertaken by supporting the said resolution and take immediate steps to fulfil their obligations.

On this note, SUARAM calls for the immediate release of all activists and opposition leaders arrested and detained by the Royal Malaysian police and for the Royal Malaysian Police to cease with its crackdown against human rights and democracy!

In Solidarity,
Sevan Doraisamy
Executive Director


National Security Council Bill a Threat to Parliamentary Democracy!

For immediate release
3rd December 2015

Suara Rakyat Malaysia strongly condemns the introduction of the National Security Council Bill and the attempt by the Barisan National to bulldoze the Bill through Parliament.

Between the power given to the Prime Minister to declare an effective ‘state of emergency’ in a ‘security area’; the wide ranging power given to security forces; and the absence of any form of check and balance would allow the Prime Minister and his chosen cabal to act with absolute impunity as a dictator in Malaysia.

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While, the Government of Malaysia justified the Bill as a necessary provision to safeguard national security, it is irrational to think that we need such measure despite the absence of any large scale conflict or threat on Malaysian soil. Even in the days of conflict with the Communists and the confrontation with Indonesia, Malaysia had no need for such draconian measure. Certainly we do not need it now!

The only reason why the Government of Malaysia wish to implement this legislation is to provide its leaders with unparalleled power to control the country and silence all form of dissent with violence and threat of violence.

Further, the execution of this act would undermine what little human rights Malaysians enjoy at this juncture. The proposed bill also clearly contradicts the United Nations General Assembly resolution on human rights defenders that Malaysia agreed to last week.

If this Bill was passed, it is likely that Malaysians today will stand witness to the killing blow against democracy in Malaysia! Rather than protecting Malaysia from the security threat from the Islamic State terrorists and incidents like the Sulu Invasion, the National Security Council Bill will become the real security threat to Malaysia’s national security and Parliamentary Democracy and set Malaysia on the path of tyranny!

Say no to the National Security Council Bill!  


In Solidarity,

Sevan Doraisamy
Executive Director





50 Years of the ISA
On 1 August, the Internal Security Act (ISA) will have been in existence for 50
years. The ISA was enacted in 1960 on the premise that it was needed to address
the threat posed by the Communist movement. The original Act incorporated
various mechanisms to prevent its abuse, including provision for judicial
review. A promise was also made that it would be used solely to counter the
armed Communist insurgency. Eventually the Communists laid down their arms, but
the ISA remained on the books, and is still in force today. It was even
“enhanced” in 1989 when the provision of judicial review was removed, rendering
it even more unjust and controversial.

The scope of the ISA has also been broadened; the list of its “victims” has
grown ever longer. Over the years it has been used to detain people said to be
members of Jemaah Islamiah (JI), KMM (Malaysian Militant Group), the Al-Maunah
and Al-Arqam groups, Shiah adherents, political activists, reform activists,
students and human rights activists. It has even been used to detain people
alleged to have forged identity cards, cloned telephones, made counterfeit coins
and harbored illegal immigrants – cases which have been considered very

The ISA has become a ready tool to be used in place of professional, thorough
and painstaking investigation by the police. In addition, the reasons and
process of arrest under the ISA, as well as the methods of interrogation used,
have often clearly contravened humanitarian and religious principles. In short,
the entire set-up is riddled with controversy. Every arrest made under the ISA
represents a failure on the part of the police to conduct investigations which
fulfill the criteria required by the Attorney General to proceed with
prosecution. This collaboration between the police and the Home Ministry to
curtail the proper process of justice is in itself a gross injustice, by any

The ISA has also long been used by the ruling coalition to suppress political
dissent. It has been used to punish critics, to try and silence dissenting
voices, cover up their corrupt and unethical practices, and deflect pressure
from the international community. All this is done in the name of “national
security”, but instead constitutes a deliberate hobbling of the country’s system
of justice. To their way of thinking, the interests of national security
override the principles of justice, and this in itself is controversial.

Facing widespread criticism both at home and abroad – the ISA has badly damaged
Malaysia’s reputation – the government has finally proposed to review the ISA.
However, it is clear that they have no intention of relinquishing this
formidable and invaluable crutch of power. They are going all out to sell the
idea of amendment, rather than repeal. Considering the history of the ISA, it
seems very likely that these amendments will be minor and merely cosmetic, and
will not achieve anything in terms of removing its elements of injustice and
abuse of human rights.

At the present time, 16 people are still being detained under the ISA. The
longest-standing detainee is Shamsuddin Sulaiman, alleged to be a member of JI,
who has been detained for more than 8 years. The newest detainee, arrested on 15
July 2010, is Fadzullah Bin Abdul Razak, alleged to be a terrorist. Since April
2009, a total of 12 people have been detained under the ISA. This is despite the
fact that in April 2009 the Prime Minister announced that a number of ISA
detainees would be released and the ISA itself reviewed.

The review of the ISA has been limited to only five aspects, and the proposed
amendments to the Act, promised for more than a year, have yet to be tabled in
Parliament. The five aspects are: detention without trial; the broad powers of
the minister; the length of detention allowed; the rights and treatment of
detainees; and the public perception that the ISA is used as a tool of political
oppression. GMI would like to expand on these five aspects.

a) Detention without trial
Detention under the ISA is not protected by effective judicial review. The
court only allows a challenge to be mounted based on technical grounds,
that is, habeas corpus; there is no avenue to challenge the grounds of arrest.
In many cases there has been no sound reason to invoke the ISA, since the
charges could have been dealt with under existing criminal laws.

b) Powers of the Minister
The power currently invested in the Minister to decide to detain a person for
a period of two years is clearly far too broad. It also implies that the
Minister has no respect for the judicial process or for the executive arm of the
government. It thus fails to adhere to the principle of separation of powers.

c) The Period of detention
The 60-day period of detention is used for interrogation of detainees by Special
Branch officers, who routinely employ physically and psychologically abusive
methods. A person should only be detained if there is evidence against him/her,
and if the police fail to come up with such evidence the person should be
released. As a matter of principle, no-one should be detained for 60 days
without recourse to judicial process.

d) Rights and treatment of detainees
Both GMI and SUARAM have gathered and published extensive documentary evidence
of abuse and torture of ISA detainees. During the 60-day detention period
detainees are denied access to lawyers, and there have been a number of cases
where detainees were not informed of their rights at the time of their arrest.
The authorities justify torture and abuse by saying that it is necessary for the
successful completion of the investigation. In addition, detainees and their
families are often subjected to pressure and psychological abuse.

e) Public perception of misuse of the ISA for political purposes
It is common knowledge that many of those arrested under the ISA have been
political activists and dissidents, or anyone who has criticized the government
and its policies.

GMI is of the firm opinion that amending these five aspects alone will not
prevent the ruling coalition from continuing to abuse the ISA in this manner to
perpetuate its hold on power. The only way to restore public confidence would be
to repeal the ISA, ensure that police carry out their investigations in a
professional manner, ensure that judicial oversight is not excluded, and for the
government to uphold norms and principles of justice and human rights.

The People’s Role in Repealing the ISA
Public pressure in demanding the repeal of the ISA is crucial. The importance of
the support and active engagement of the people, regardless of political
affiliation, religion or ethnic and social background, cannot be overstated. The
Abolish ISA Rally held on 1 August 2009 was witness to the effectiveness of such
broad public participation.

Accordingly, GMI will continue to invite the people to play an active role in
this campaign. To mark the 50th anniversary of the ISA, GMI is organizing a
series of events, among them are:

1. Arts Night: “Detention without Trial”, to be held on 24 July 2010, at the
MBPJ Multipurpose Hall in Jalan Nuri, Section 7, Kota Damansara, starting at 8

2. Distribution of leaflets simultaneously in Kuala Lumpur and state
capitals, on 1 August.

3. Candle-light vigils to be held simultaneously at locations around the
country, also on 1 August.

4. The People’s Demands
GMI will never compromise in the issue of detention without trial. All Acts
which allow or have resulted in oppression, torture and abuse of people should
have no place on the statute books, and should be abolished without delay.

All groups and organizations which are part of the GMI coalition are urged to
give their support to the demands listed below, in an effort to maximize support
from all partners.

We hereby demand that the government:
1. Abolish all existing unjust laws such as the ISA, EO (Emergency
Ordinance), DDA (Dangerous Drugs Act), and the RRA (Restricted Residence Act),
with immediate effect. All of these laws go against the spirit of the Federal
Constitution, as well as contravene Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (1981). This appeal is in keeping with similar
recommendations made by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) and
the Malaysian Commission for Human Rights (SUHAKAM), as well as by various other
human rights organizations such as Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights
Watch (HRW), the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), and the Islamic
Human Rights Commission (IHRC).

2. Either releases, or charges in an open court, all those currently detained
without trial.

3. Close down immediately all detention centres for detainees held without
trial, such as Kamunting and Simpang Renggam.

4. Awards compensation to all those who have been detained without trial, for
being unjustly deprived of their liberty and denied their due rights.

5. Makes a public apology to all such detainees, past and present, and
compensates them for the injustice, abuse and suffering inflicted on them during
and as a result of their detention.

6. Utilize instead existing criminal laws such as the following:
a. Section 489B of the Penal Code: counterfeiting money;
b. Section 56 of the Immigration Act: falsifying passports;
c. Section 298A of the Penal Code: issuing statements or spreading rumours
to incite religious hatred;
d. Section 499 of the Penal Code: issuing statements to incite racial hatred;
e. Section 499 of the Penal Code: distributing false information; or
f. Chapter VIA of the Penal Code: terrorist offences.

7. Investigates all complaints and cases of abuse, torture, inhuman treatment
and abuse of power perpetrated on any detainees, past or present; prosecutes
those responsible and sets up a Royal Commission to conduct investigations.

8. Debates the SUHAKAM Annual Reports in Parliament and implements its

9. Recognizes respects and restores the proper powers of the judiciary, as an
independent body, to provide a check and balance on the power of the police and
executive, and repeals all laws which have removed such judicial oversight.

Released By,
Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA (GMI)