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Global human rights alliance gives Putrajaya poor marks

Civicus cites a spate of arrests using various draconian laws as well as clampdown on free speech.

2 minute read
Pro-Palestine activist Harmit Singh arrested by police for going 'too close' to the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur on Feb 24. Photo: Facebook
Pro-Palestine activist Harmit Singh arrested by police for going 'too close' to the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur on Feb 24. Photo: Facebook

A spate of arrests and harassment by authorities utilising various draconian laws has prompted an international alliance of civil society groups to rate Malaysia's civic space as "obstructed", further calling into question the reform promises of Anwar Ibrahim's coalition government.

Civicus, a global alliance of trade unions, faith-based networks, professional associations and non-governmental organisations, said the government has failed to defend human rights at home by silencing dissent online and harassing peaceful protesters and activists.

"Critical news websites and blogs have been blocked. Peaceful protesters continue to be hauled in by the police for questioning under the Peaceful Assembly Act. Malaysia has also yet to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," the group said, documenting a series of rights violations by the government.

This followed the Universal Periodic Review of the human rights situation in Malaysia by the UN Human Rights Council, of which Malaysia is a member, in which 348 recommendations were made.

Civicus stated that despite calls for member states to improve democratic space, authorities in Malaysia have arrested peaceful protesters such as participants in a pro-Palestine rally and a women's march, harassed and charged filmmakers and others with sedition, and cracked down on online speech.

The report notes that the Sedition Act was used in 28 cases in 2023, a 65% increase from 17 cases in 2022.

Local human rights group Suaram had reported that 97 individuals were investigated, arrested, charged or convicted under the Communications and Multimedia Act for comments and posts made online.

These include blogger Wan Muhammad Azri Wan Deris, former Umno man Zool Amali Hussin and academic Teo Kok Seong for his comments on vernacular schools.

Civicus' observations followed another damning report on the government's human rights record when Human Rights Watch's report on the treatment of detained migrants was released earlier this month.

The report documents how thousands of refugees and migrants are held in "violent, squalid" detention centres, deprived of basic necessities and sometimes tortured.

Anwar's Pakatan Harapan, which leads the coalition government formed with Barisan Nasional, has been criticised for a series of U-turns on reforms.

Recently, the government came under fire for wanting to deny automatic citizenship to foundlings and stateless children, forcing the home ministry to postpone tabling a bill to amend the constitution.

"We are waiting for the other reforms. And what are they doing? They are going after the babies!,"  said activist Ambiga Sreenevasan recently.

The prominent lawyer, who once led the Bersih protests for institutional reforms with the support of PH leaders, said it was "shameful" that the coalition, which came to power on a platform of reforms, was now introducing regressive laws.