LAUNCH OF SUARA RAKYAT MALAYSIA’S (SUARAM) ANNUAL “MALAYSIA HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT 2022”
2022 was a mix of ‘stability’ and uncertainty. Aside from inflation as well as food and financial
insecurity post-pandemic, the risk of displacement or losses of livelihoods was also persistent for many due to intermittent floods. By October 2022, the transitional state of political ‘stability’ quickly slid into the dissolution of Parliament, paving the way for snap polls in November 2022. The 15th General Election (GE) and their results were anything but predictable, keeping many Malaysians at the edge of their seats - from multi-cornered fights across multiple constituent seats among an unprecedented number of candidates, a hung Parliament, to the tussles over government formation prior to the ‘coalition of coalitions’ arrangement that now makes up the unity government.
Application and abuse of laws that violate the right to fair trial, specifically 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, (DDA85) persist. Arrests under SOSMA and POCA remained significantly higher than those under POTA. Arrests for DDA85 were largely made in the context of the nationwide Ops Tapis Khas (Special Screening Op) 1 to 7 anti-narcotics operation by the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM). The operation was systematically implemented through raids that each lasted a few days in identified hot spots. The political will to abolish the elements of detention without trial of SOSMA, POCA and POTA remained lacking. This was especially the case for SOSMA, whereby Section 4(5) of SOSMA was extended by another five years till 2027.
In the Right to Justice landscape, one significant development was the long-overdue passing of the Independent Police Conduct Commission (IPCC) Act in Parliament. This Act lacks disciplinary powers to compel action against police personnel with misconduct, making it a toothless tiger in upholding police accountability. On another note, deaths in custody remains a prickling issue. Whilst the Criminal Investigation Unit on Deaths in Custody (USJKT) swiftly released press statements to inform the public about cases of death in custody, no information related to the investigation process and outcome of cases was provided. Little to no progress was also observed in rectifying longstanding gaps of case underreporting and systemic issues such as unstandardised or poorly implemented health screening procedures. Police failure is also highlighted in documented enforced disappearances such as the Malaysian-Indonesian couple Joshua Hilmy and Ruth Sitepu, warranting reforms such as improving the standard operating procedures relating to investigations of missing persons as well as enhancing police personnel’s forensic investigation capabilities - which are comprehensively explored in Feature 2 of this report.
Use of laws that curtail freedom of expression, especially the Sedition Act 1948 and Section 233 of the Communication and Multimedia Act 1998, continued. The number of investigations and arrests under these two legislations reduced compared to 2021. Whilst bans were imposed on selected films, there were none imposed on publications under the Printing Presses Publications Act 1984 within the year.
The freedom to assemble continued to be exercised regularly by activists, and in some cases, politicians. Efforts to limit protest space were exercised by the police in public assemblies involving issues that were ‘more sensitive’.
The passing of the constitutional amendment to prevent party defection among elected members of Parliament was another very significant milestone in 2022, albeit with loopholes such as non-applicability to coalition hopping. Nevertheless, more remains to be done in addressing key issues that impede the achievement of truly free and fair elections such as malapportionment and weak enforcement of election rules.
In 2022, the independence of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) was called into question, due to the yet-to-be-submitted 2020 and 2021 annual reports to Parliament as well as the controversial appointments of the new chairperson and SUHAKAM Commissioners.
Developments surrounding the rights, wellbeing and welfare of women, the LGBTQ+ community, as well as migrants and refugees are covered in this report.
There were positive developments such as the passing of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act 2022 and gender-responsive budgeting efforts. Progress was limited or slow in other areas such as child marriage and women political participation.
Criminalisation, stereotyping and violence were still heavily used by state and non-state actors to marginalise, exclude and discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community.
Malaysia’s treatment of migrants and refugees continues to toe the line between tacit acceptance, neglect, outright hostility and xenophobia. Immigration raids and human rights abuses against migrant communities persisted, with no political will to accede to key conventions that recognise the status of refugees.
Promising strides were made by the government to abolish mandatory death penalty, leading to the first tabling of seven Bills in early October 2022, prior to the dissolution of Parliament. Discretionary death penalty will still, however, most likely be retained. Even then, Malaysia is still more progressive than Singapore, where the death penalty remains a core pillar of its criminal punishment regime and drug policy. The city-state resumed its executions after a two-year pause, and among them the harrowing case of intellectually disabled Malaysian man Nagaenthran Dharmalingam who was on death row in Singapore since 2010.
The status of climate emergency in Malaysia is comprehensively explored in SUARAM’s Annual Human Rights Report, recognising the universal human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Whilst our nation has begun undertaking an energy transition through use or exploration of sources such as large hydro and carbon capture and storage, energy security is prioritised at the expense of adverse environmental harm and increased vulnerability of local communities especially the Indigenous communities to negative effects of climate change.