MALAYSIA’S 2015 HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD: TRANSFORMING INTO A POLICE STATE

Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser on Human Rights Day, 10 December 2015

Malaysian society is fast becoming an Orwellian dystopia in which labels such as ‘moderates’, ‘extremists’, ‘national security’, ‘national harmony’, ‘sedition’, and even ‘sabotage of the economy’ and ‘parliamentary democracy’  have become relative (Doublespeak) and imprecise, depending on how they are defined by the state and the judiciary.

The Malaysian Government has added to this dystopia by introducing yet another unjustified draconian law, ‘The National Security Council Bill’ with measures equivalent to those following the declaration of a state of Emergency, all in the name of protecting ‘national security’. The Malaysian Government’s human rights record for 2015 is already appalling, even prior to the tabling of this Emergency-like law, given the range of detention-without-trial laws including SOSMA, POCA, POTA and DDA, other “catch-all” laws such as the Sedition Act and the arbitrary actions of enforcement personnel.

And if the promise made by then Home Minister Tun Razak in 1960 that the ISA would never be abused could not be kept, what value is the word of the former anti-corruption activist (FACA) Minister in the PM’s Department that the new NSCB will not be abused!

Detention without trial laws invariably abused by the State

Just as the ISA was abused manifold, the relatively new SOSMA has been blatantly abused in the case of Khairuddin and Mathias Chang when they were held for “attempted sabotage of the Malaysian economy” for having made reports about the mismanagement of 1MDB and the depositing of RM2.6 billion into the Prime Minister’s personal account. They were initially even denied bail but subsequently this was allowed by the High Court because it was judged that theirs was “not a security offence”.

Just as it was argued by the Alliance /BN government for decades that the ISA was essential to neutralize the threat posed by the Opposition, the government now justifies detention without trial as an essential means to counter the threat of international terrorism by groups such as IS.

While SUARAM vehemently condemns the terrorism and barbarism of groups such as IS we are equally as concerned about upholding human rights and the rule of law in our country. In principle, we condemn the use of detention without trial and recent cases have shown that it is possible to bring alleged terrorists to justice by trying them in open court. We would remind Malaysians that even in the countries of the West that are under terrorist attacks, they do not have detention without trial laws directed at their own citizens.

We would also like to urge politicians on both sides of the political divide not to rely on McCarthyist methods to demonise their political opponents by imputing that the latter have been “infiltrated by IS” and calling for the police to investigate as was done by a Parti Amanah leader recently. This is reminiscent of the sixties when opponents of the Socialist Front would allege that the SF had been infiltrated by the CPM. Any allegations of terrorist connections must be backed up by solid evidence and proof. Failure to do so is grossly irresponsible and brings us closer to being a police state.

The plight of Rohingya ‘boat people’ a humanitarian disaster

The tragedy of Rohingya refugees being stranded in the Andaman Sea in 2015 was bad enough but the refusal of Malaysia and other regional authorities to take them in was a human rights abomination of major proportions. The numbers stranded aboard rickety ships was estimated to be in the thousands. Despite a plea from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, urging Southeast Asian leaders to uphold “international law” and “the obligation of rescue at sea,” Malaysia refused to accept these “boat people” who were suffering from rapidly dwindling provisions.

The Malaysian government did not engage in any search and rescue efforts to provide desperately needed aid at sea nor did they allow migrants to land on offshore islands for such aid. The Malaysian Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Jaafar said the surge of refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh seeking asylum in Malaysia was unwelcome and his government would turn back any illegal arrivals.

The attitude of Penang Deputy Chief Minister to the plight of the Rohingya boatpeople was just as disappointing. He had criticised the Federal Government’s move to house the Rohingya boatpeople in Penang as another politically motivated ‘Project IC’. As a former radical upwardly mobile person (FRUMP) the Pakatan Rakyat leader should have shown more humanitarian concern for the welfare of the boatpeople and could have used Penang state government resources to provide food and drink to these desperate people.

Malaysia’s response was in sharp contrast to the attitude of the European countries such as Germany and the Italians in the island of Lampedusa who have shown a commendable humanitarian effort to accept the thousands of refugees fleeing the war in Syria.

How does discovery of mass graves square with Tier 2 status?

The discovery of multiple mass graves (139) by the Malaysian police and the uncovering of 28 suspected human trafficking camps located about 500 metres from the country’s northern border makes us skeptical of the decision by the US to upgrade Malaysia to Tier 2 status in the US Human Trafficking Report for 2015. The dense jungles of southern Thailand and northern Malaysia have been a major route for human traffickers bringing Rohingyas from Burma.

From press reports, local people have been aware of atrocities in the border area for years and it is incumbent on the Government to explain why the police and security forces have been unable to apprehend these human traffickers all these years when they could deal with the greater challenge of the insurgency during the Emergency.

Human rights compromised by the TPPA?

Until very recently Malaysia was ranked as one of the countries with the worst human trafficking ranking in the eyes of the U.S. State Department, a ranking which bars such countries from entering into the TPPA deal. Is it coincidental that the 2015 upgrade to Tier 2 status should happen just as the US government is trying very hard to accommodate Malaysia in the TPPA? If not, how is this upgrade justified in the light of the grisly mass graves discovered in 2015? There had been speculation that Malaysia would remain at Tier 3 because, despite a rise in investigations Malaysia’s conviction rate had apparently fallen even lower than before.

If true, this manipulation of Malaysia’s ranking in the State Department’s 2015 TIP report would be a perversion of the trafficking list and undermine both the integrity of this important report as well as the very difficult task of confronting states about human trafficking,” said Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, who had pushed to bar Tier 3 countries from inclusion in the trade pact.” (Reuters, 9 July 2015)

Another apparent compromise by the US Government in getting Malaysia to sign the TPPA is the surprising decision by the US that Putrajaya’s pro-Bumiputera policies will not be affected in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). United States Trade Representative Michael Froman said at a forum in 2015 that this is a “sovereign decision”. Froman said the US recognises that each country in the agreement has its own way of dealing poverty and growth, amid fears by pro-Malay groups that the TPPA will erode Bumiputera privileges. If this is allowed to pass, the Malaysian government can also justify denying better labour standards to workers on the basis of its “sovereign decision”.

It is clear that the US government is eluding the question of whether some of these so-called “Bumiputera privileges” amount to racial discrimination and whether in fact they violate international human rights principles. I would refer the US Government to the article by former Ambassador to Malaysia, John Malott, ‘The Price of Malaysia’s Racism’ in The Wall Street Journal on 8 February 2011.

It is facile for the US to say that any country’s policy is a “sovereign decision” in their attempt to bulldoze the TPPA. If that is so then the US should also respect President Assad’s “sovereign decision” in Syria and President Mugabe’s in Zimbabwe and the US and their coalition should not have invaded Iraq in the first place in 2003.

Is it also Malaysia’s “sovereign decision” to continue to incarcerate the former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim even when the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has condemned his arbitrary detention and called for his immediate release?

Trade agreements should integrate human rights standards

Proposals to integrate human rights standards into trade agreements are nothing new. United Nations institutions would be the appropriate international adjudication to establish, definitively, which countries should and which should not be considered human rights violators. In fact, the US has always behaved with considerable ambivalence toward international norms and for decades the Senate simply refused to ratify any of these conventions.

Thus, it is actually the United States that has been unwilling to submit to constraints on its sovereignty. We certainly do not have any illusions about US intervention especially since the US used the pretext of bringing democracy to the Iraqi people as a reason to invade Iraq. This has made the rest of the world associate the idea of a “good intentioned intervention” with western abuses of power. For a better world order, the United States must change its policies to keep in step with world opinion and so must the Malaysian Government which to this day has failed to ratify many vital international treaties.

Human rights are guaranteed in our Federal Constitution

Far from being in conflict with our national sovereignty, human rights are actually the cornerstone of the rule of law and state sovereignty of Malaysia. Part II on ‘Fundamental Liberties’ in our Federal Constitution spells out unequivocally the human rights of Malaysians. They are an essential tool enabling states to ensure that every person can live with dignity, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion or other status. Most important of all, these international and inviolable principles empower citizens and human rights advocates such as SUARAM, to participate actively in shaping domestic development for the good of all.

Unfortunately, many of our human rights have been unceremoniously overridden through decades of constitutional amendments by the ruling BN coalition. This is how crypto-Emergency rule, detention without trial and other violations of our fundamental freedoms have defiled Malaysian democracy, rapidly transforming Malaysian society into a police state.

Malaysia: Federal Court’s decision on Sedition Act further hinders rights in the country

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(Bangkok, 7 October 2015) – The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and its member Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) express their disappointment over the ruling by the Federal Court of Malaysia to declare the Sedition Act 1948 constitutional. The verdict marks another serious setback to the already dismal environment for fundamental freedoms in the country and paves the way for the prolonged rampant use of the Act against any expression of dissent.

FORUM-ASIA and SUARAM urge the government to take the necessary steps to repeal the Act, as well as withdraw all charges brought under the Act.

On 6 October 2015, following the challenge on the constitutionality of the Sedition Act by Azmi Sharom [1], Law Lecturer at Universiti Malaya, the Malaysian Federal Court ruled  that the British enacted law is constitutional and a valid piece of legislation.

Azmi himself was charged under Section 4(1) (b) and 4(1) (c) of the Sedition Act 1948, in September last year, over an alleged seditious remark which was later published in the Malay Mail Online. He filed an application for the court to review Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act 1948, citing that it was unconstitutional as it is inconsistent with Article 10 (2) of the Constitution, which allows only Parliament to impose legal restrictions on the right to Freedom of Speech. The Federal Court dismissed this application and ruled that Section 4 (1) of the Act does not violate the perimeter of Articles 10 (2) and 10 (4) of the Federal Constitution.

Following the decision, Azmi will have to stand trial for sedition. If convicted, he will face three years in prison or a maximum fine of RM 5,000 or both.

Instead of fulfilling its pledge to the Human Rights Council of March 2014 to repeal the colonial-era law, the Malaysian government persistently and indiscriminately uses the Sedition Act to restrict the Freedom of Expression of the Malaysian people, especially those who are critical of the government. It explicitly aims to create fear in society,” says Evelyn Balais-Serrano, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA.

The Federal Court has indicated that Parliament is liable to balance between the rights of people guaranteed by the Federal Constitution and national security, and that the judiciary cannot override this.

FORUM-ASIA and SUARAM further express concerns over the impact of the verdict on politicians, academics, cartoonists and activists who have already been arrested, investigated and charged under the Act, as well as the future implications on the fundamental rights, including the right to Freedom of Expression, in the country. According to SUARAM, the number of those who have been arrested and investigated has significantly increased from 29 in 2014 to 206 cases in 2015.

The ruling of the Federal Court yesterday could be seen as a ‘yes’ signal for the Malaysian government’s human rights violations. We reiterate our calls to the government and to Prime Minister Najib Razak to abolish the Sedition Act and drop all charges under the Act”, concludes Sevan Doraisamy, Executive Director of SUARAM.

About FORUM-ASIA: 

FORUM-ASIA is a Bangkok-based regional human rights group with 47 member organisations in 16 countries across Asia. FORUM-ASIA has offices in Bangkok, Jakarta and Geneva. FORUM-ASIA addresses key areas of human rights violations in the region, including freedoms of expressions, assembly and association, human rights defenders, and democratisation.

For further Inquiries, please contact:

Pimsiri Petchnamrob, East Asia Programme Officer, FORUM-ASIA, [email protected]asia.org, +66 (0)813405409

[GHAH] Hari Yang Kelam Buat Kebebasan Bersuara

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Kenyataan Media GHAH
6 Oktober 2015
Untuk hebahan segera

HARI YANG KELAM BUAT KEBEBASAN BERSUARA

Gerakan Hapus Akta Hasutan (GHAH) hari ini melahirkan rasa kecewa atas keputusan yang telah dibuat oleh Mahkamah Persekutuan dalam semakan kehakiman kes Akta Hasutan yang telah difailkan oleh Prof Azmi Sharom.

Akta Hasutan 1948 seperti yang diketahui umum selama ini, adalah akta drakonian dan zalim yang dicipta oleh penjajah untuk menahan individu dan menyekat kebebasan bersuara terutama dalam perjuangan menuntut kemerdekaan negara suatu masa dahulu.

Mengekal dan menggunakan akta tinggalan penjajah ini malah boleh dianggap sebagai suatu penghinaan besar kepada kemerdekaan dan kedaulatan negara kita.

Mengulangi semula tuntutan yang diperjuangkan oleh GHAH sejak sekian lama; dengan perkembangan hari ini yang mnyaksikan bahawa Akta Hasutan 1948 kekal digunakan biarpun dengan begitu banyak hujah yang mewajarkan pemansuhan dan ketidak berperlembagaannya, kami tetap dengan keras menggesa kerajaan untuk memansuhkan Akta Hasutan 1948 dengan serta merta, tanpa perlu digantikan dengan mana-mana akta lain.

Biarpun apa keputusannya, GHAH akan meneruskan gerak kerja sehingga akta zalim ini dihapuskan serta merta.

Dalam masa yang sama juga, GHAH ingin mengingatkan kerajaan bahawa perkembangan mutakhir ini turut mendapat perhatian kami apabila sekian ramai aktivis dan pemimpin politik ditahan dan disiasat di bawah 124B dan 124C Kanun Keseksaan, sebagai ganti kepada Akta Hasutan. Kenyataan atau tindakan mengkritik dasar dan kecurangan kerajaan dan pemimpin negara, adalah hak dan tanggungjawab setiap warganegara. Isu ini sama sekali tidak dipandang ringan oleh kami. Sebarang bentuk pencabulan hak kebebasan bersuara rakyat Malaysia seperti yang dijamin oleh Perkara 10 Perlembagaan Persekutuan akan terus kami tentang bersama.
Mansuhkan Akta Hasutan!

Di sediakan oleh,
Gerakan Hapus Akta Hasutan (GHAH)

—–

 

In the Absence of Justice: Sanctioned Human Rights Violations

Suaram press statement
6 October 2015

SUARAM express great disappointment at the Federal Court’s decision made in relation to the Sedition Act 1948 in Azmi Sharom’s case.

The acknowledgement and ‘approval’ of the Sedition Act 1948 as constitutional would undoubtedly constrain freedom of expression in Malaysia. With the tacit approval of the Federal Court of Malaysia, SUARAM have no doubts that prosecution and persecution of civil and political rights defenders under the Sedition Act 1948 would proceed with renewed zeal. The 207 cases of documented investigations and/or remands made under the Sedition Act 1948 would be merely a prelude to what may come.

Recalling the equally disappointing decision made by the Court of Appeal in relation to the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012, Malaysians have much to fear for in regards to our rights guaranteed by the Federal Constitution. As one of the primary defender of the Federal Constitution and all rights enshrined in our Federal Constitution, It is unfortunate that we have seen the Judiciary in Malaysia indirectly facilitate the deterioration and possibly the demise of human rights and civil liberties in Malaysia.

The worrying trend of human rights violations and erosion civil liberties by the Government of Malaysia would likely continue unabated following the tacit approval of the judiciary. This unfortunate trifecta of disappointing circumstances leaves Malaysians with little to no recourse to justice when it comes to human rights and civil liberties.

As the primary body task to uphold the Federal Constitution and dispense justice to all Malaysians without fear nor favour, the Federal Court of Malaysia must not forget their legal and moral duties to Malaysians.

On this note, SUARAM would like to remind the esteemed and respectable judges of Malaysia of the famous saying that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done. In light of the decent decisions, it is disappointingly clear that there is still much to be done before there is true justice in Malaysia.

As we did with the Internal Security Act 1960, SUARAM together with Malaysian Civil Societies and NGOs will work hard with Gerakan Hapus Akta Hasutan (GHAH) to repeal the Sedition Act 1948. SUARAM hope that this unfortunate turn of events would not silence the brave voices including but not limited to those of Azmi Sharom and the students of University Malaya.

Lastly, SUARAM would like to offer Professor Azmi Sharom and other victims who are charged and penalized for exercising their freedom of expression our deepest sympathies and would reiterate that SUARAM will stand in solidarity by your side through these trying times.

Released by,

Sevan Doraisamy

Executive Director

SUARAM

Home Minister Misleading The Country On The Proposed Prevention Of Terrorism Act (POTA)

Press statement by Dr Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser

The Government’s attempt to bring back detention without trial in the guise of the proposed Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) purportedly to contain terrorists is as disingenuous as it is misleading.

The Home Minister is misleading the country on fundamental issues:

POTA IS GROSS COMPARED TO ANTI-TERRORISM LAWS IN OTHER COUNTRIES

The Home Minister tries to give the impression that other countries have introduced detention without trial under their anti-terrorism laws. This is far from the truth. The citizens of UK and the US, for example, would never accept detention without trial as part of the Prevention of Terrorism Act for it is a complete abomination of the rule of law.

In the UK, there is no detention without trial but rather, cancellation of passports of suspected terrorists and restricting such persons to geographical areas, very much like our Restriction laws. In 2004, although the UK House of Lords accepted that there was a ‘public emergency’, they found this state of emergency did not justify discriminatory counter-terrorism measures under which foreign nationals, (although not British nationals), could be detained without trial.

The US does detain foreigners without trial in camps such as Guantanamo Bay but no US citizen can be subject to detention without trial. The US Homeland Security Act 2002 was clearly a response to the Sept 11, 2001 attack on the New York World Trade Centre. But the US did not introduce detention without trial against US citizens. The Act has been criticized by civil liberties defenders for its Operation TIPS (Terrorism Information and Prevention System), a setback to civil liberties protections such as the right to privacy and obstructing public access to information.

In Australia, the Australian Government has introduced more than 40 new counter-terrorism laws since 2001. These laws have created new criminal offences, new detention and questioning powers for police and security agencies, new powers for the Attorney-General to proscribe (ban) terrorist organisations, and new ways to control people’s movement and activities without criminal convictions. The Anti-Terrorism Act 2004 introduced special powers for the Australian Federal Police to question terrorism suspects without charge. These powers mean that upon arrest for a terrorism offence a person can be detained without charge for the purpose of investigating whether the person committed the terrorism offence for which he or she was arrested and/or another terrorism offence that an investigating official reasonably suspects the person committed. A person can only be detained for four hours, unless a magistrate extends the period of detention. However, the magistrate cannot extend the period of detention for more than 20 hours. Therefore, the maximum period of time that a person can be detained for questioning is 24 hours. Thus, there is no detention without trial of Australian citizens in the way proposed under POTA, for two years!

THE RIGHT OF EVERY HUMAN BEING TO A FREE TRIAL

The right of every person to a fair trial is protected under international human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (‘the ICCPR’) and the Convention against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (‘CAT’). Countries which have ratified these treaties are bound to protect this fundamental right to a free trial. Malaysia has still not ratified these treaties!

By cloaking detention without trial in the proposed POTA under the misleading tag that “Malaysia will join the ranks of other countries that have in place anti-terrorism laws”, the Home Minister is guilty of grossly misleading the country. Let us not forget that we already have detention without trial laws including the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA) and the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (PCA) as well as the Penal Code that was crafted through the years when the country underwent an Emergency from 1948 to 1960.

DETENTION WITHOUT TRIAL WILL SURELY BE ABUSED

As if with a guilty conscience, the Home Minister felt obliged to add that “the Act would not be used as a political tool to silence critics.” For the thousands of victims of detention without trial in Malaysia who number more than 10,000 since 1960, his assurance in an interview rings hollow. We remember when Tun Razak gave the assurance in Parliament during the passage of the ISA in 1960 that the Act would only be used against “communist terrorists”. Dr. Mahathir certainly did not care to refer to his old Hansards or care very much about what Tun Razak had assured in 1960 when he unleashed Operation Lalang in 1987. Does the Home Minister’s word today carry more gravitas than Tun Razak’s in 1960?

HOME MINISTER SHOULD NOT TRY TO COVER UP INCOMPETENCE

The Home Minister should not try to cover up the incompetence of our police and intelligence services by bringing in convenient laws which allow detention without trial. When we bear in mind that the alleged Malaysian terrorists who have been killed recently in Indonesia and the Philippines had never been detained without trial in Malaysia, it points to a shocking oversight by our police and intelligence services. On the other hand, when we ask how many of the more than 10,000 ISA detainees through the years had been charged for terrorism crimes, the case for POTA fails miserably.

SUARAM’s 16th Annual Human Rights Award: Dapur Jalanan and Transgender Community in Seremban are the winners

On 9 December, in conjunction with the 64th annual international Human Rights Day and the 25th anniversary of SUARAM, SUARAM is pleased to announce that the winners of its 16th annual Human Rights Award in 2014 are Dapur Jalanan and Transgender Community in Seremban.

A total of six groups were nominated for the award and were evaluated by judges according to three criteria. These are that the group must have struggled persistently and fearlessly in defending rights, justice and dignity against oppression, successfully organized, empowered and activated their people in the process of promoting and protecting human rights, and impacted human rights in 2014.

Nomination Video:

SUARAM first presented its annual Human Rights Award in 1999.

The six nominees, nominated by public members were Dapur Jalanan, The Transgender Community in Seremban, Sisters in Islam, Rakan Mantin, Persatuan Mahasiswa Universiti Malaya 2013/2014 and Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy.

After carefully considering the nominee’s work, the three judges, Maria Chin Abdullah (Chair of Bersih 2.0), Liau Kok Fah (Chair of Civil Rights Committee of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall) and Prof. Zaharom Nain (Nottingham University) determined the two winners.

In explaining the decision, the Judges stated they could not decide on one winner, due to the inherent differences between the two groups. They stated that the Transgender Community Seremban is a group whose rights are constantly and severely oppressed and that they are in a continual struggle to challenge deep-seated taboos in Malaysia. The award recognises the community’s victory in the Putrajaya Court of Appeal, garnering recognition by the legal system of the dignity and rights of transgender people in the country. The judgment has fundamentally changed and enlivened the dialogue about LGBT rights in Malaysia.

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Dapur Jalanan, the second winner, was recognised for their relentless work in not only providing humanitarian services of cooking and preparing food for the homeless and destitute persons, but also their effort to go beyond welfare services in addressing the structural problems of poverty and empowering homeless and destitute persons to defend their own rights and dignity. The award recognizes the struggle of Dapur Jalanan in asserting their rights in the face of threats from government and bans of providing free food to the urban poor in the city of Kuala Lumpur. While they have won the battle to continue their activities, they are facing another uphill task of stopping the amendments to the Destitute Persons Act that is going to criminalise acts deemed to be begging and provide welfare officers with police-like power in apprehending homeless people.

Suaram extends our appreciation to Prof Zaharom Nain for his contribution of RM1000 for the prize money of the human rights award.

Suaram annual human rights award expresses our recognition and solidarity with those who have worked to support and advance the cause of human rights. The award is not only a celebration of those tirelessly fighting for human rights in Malaysia, but also an opportunity to foster solidarity and reflect on what the current state of human rights means for all Malaysians as we continue forward in our work.