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Updated: Dec 9, 2023

After three years of political and socioeconomic uncertainties, the unity government with its

proclaimed commitments for reform was a source of hope for many Malaysians. There is

increased receptivity by the current administrations to engage with civil society on human

rights issues. Commitments to legislative reform were also made. Despite this, substantive

progress in creating an enabling environment for not only regular Malaysians to fully

exercise their civil and political rights, but also vulnerable groups to live without fear and

violence, remains limited.

Laws that violate the right to fair trial continue to be applied. SUARAM documented 3196 cases of arrests, detention and charges related to human trafficking under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA). There were 249 arrests under the Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Measures) Act 1985 (DDA85). Whilst the government is receptive to amending SOSMA, no explicit timeline was given. How the government can ensure protection of fundamental rights of individuals whilst continuing to use SOSMA for its touted purposes of national security and public order is also uncertain, in light of the negative socioeconomic cascade effects that SOSMA has on families of detainees.

Realisation of right to justice remains precarious for individuals and families affected. SUARAM documents 13 death-in-custody (DIC) cases this year, with close to 85% of them under police custody. This does not reflect actual DIC prevalence, due to the longstanding issue of lack of data transparency. Access of justice for families involved is also challenging and protracted. There is no commitment by the current administration to improve the Independent Police Conduct Commission Act 2022 (IPCC) - one of the pledges by the Pakatan Harapan coalition in its election manifesto last year.

Significant regression is seen in freedom of expression. Key laws such as the Sedition Act 1948 and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 continue to be enforced. More explicit measures such as warnings by members in government and the setup of a investigation task force were implemented to exert more restrictive control over discourse related to race, religion and royalty. Five bans were enacted under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, comprising four books and the Swatch Pride watch.

Restrictions to exercise freedom of peaceful assembly persist. Investigations against organisers and/or participants after, and in some cases, before public assemblies, persist. SUARAM documented the number of individuals investigated to be at least 80 this year. Four activists and civilians were charged under the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012. Tactics seen in previous years such as police barricade, arrest and detention of individuals and pre-rally warnings are still used in public assemblies organised by the political opposition or held in significant public spaces such as Parliament.

Six state elections and five by-elections are held this year. An emerging issue is the misuse of MyKad for voting, whereby the Royal Malaysian Police received as many as 94 complaints. Abuse of government resources persists, due to the lack of strong legal frameworks to define and circumscribe powers of caretaker and non-caretaker governments.

Freedom of religion and belief is still restricted, in light of selective application of blasphemy

laws, as well as longstanding practices of prosecution of religious minorities and moral

policing by state religious authorities.

In corruption and governance, commitment to legislative reform is seen in the passing of the Public Finance and Fiscal Responsibility Act 2023 and ongoing drafting of the Ombudsman Bill, but no timeline for reform is given on the separation of the offices of the Attorney-General and the Public Prosecutor. The government’s commitment to tackling corruption and governance is also diluted by the extension of Chief Commissioner Azam Baki’s tenure within the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and continued lack of transparency in government-linked company political appointments.

Preliminary efforts are undertaken by the government to improve the welfare of migrants and

refugees, such as the launch of forced labour guidelines and the commitment to implement a

policy for refugees that will give them access to employment, health and education. Nevertheless, such efforts will not come full circle, when investigations and raids by law enforcement persist and political will to align with global human rights standards on migrant and refugee protection is still lacking.

Human rights of LGBTIQ and gender-diverse people continue to regress in 2023, as evidenced by wide-ranging state-led efforts that restrict their rights. This is seen in a spike in censorship of LGBTIQ expressions, increase in violence including hate speech, introduction of anti-LGBT Syariah laws and expansion of conversion practices. At least two murders of trans women were documented.

In the face of climate disasters faced by Malaysia such as floods and heatwaves, the nation’s ability to effectively tackle them remains limited, due to climate and welfare policies that are not yet fully responsive to the Rakyat’s needs. As Malaysia undertakes green transition, there is also the need to strengthen accountability frameworks to safeguard environmental rights, including those of environmental human rights defenders.

Read the full report here.

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