Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) - Malaysia Human Rights Report 2017

Our Movement

The year leading up to the general election in Malaysia tends to be swamped with political gimmicks and intrigues by political parties from both sides of the fence. The casualty in all this politicking has been respect for human rights. Human rights violations in 2017 followed largely the same trend as in the preceding years.

Detention without trial remained a prevalent concern throughout 2017 with indications that security laws were being used arbitrarily to detain individuals without trial. From the replies in Parliament, we learn that more than 989 individuals have been arrested and detained under SOSMA since its inception in April 2012. More shocking is the revelation that more than 159 minors have been detained under security provisions; there are currently 142 minors detained under POCA and 17 have been detained under SOSMA.

2017 started off with the case of S. Balamurugan which exposes the extent of police abuse of power in the country. The brutality inflicted upon Balamurugan and the apathy shown by members of the police force who witnessed this violation is unacceptable. Cases of custodial death is also on the rise in 2017 with 8 known deaths in police custody up until end November. The new phenomena of enforced disappearances is a cause for concern in 2017.

Freedom of expression remains at an all-time low with a broad spectrum of laws restricting what can be expressed publicly. The censuring of The Star under the Sedition Act 1948 for a frontpage banner considered “insensitive” by the authorities reveals the current level of intolerance by the State for dissent and differing points of views. This led to the suspension of The Star’s editor-in-chief and executive editor. The Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 continues to plague Internet users with more than 146 known cases under investigation and 44 documented cases of investigations or arrests for online comments on social media.

In the recent years, freedom of assembly has seen a notable improvement with less severe crackdown and harassment against peaceful assemblies and organizers of assemblies. Nevertheless, this improved record was bucked by the crackdown and mass arrest of community members and activists involved in resisting forced eviction and corporate incursion into indigenous community land.

The restriction of freedom of movement now extends beyond disallowing Malaysian activists from leaving the country to barring non-Malaysian activists from entering the country. In 2017, three notable individuals involved in the human rights movement in their respective countries were barred from entering Malaysia with two of them subjected to brief detention by the Immigration Department.

Freedom of religion continues to decline in 2017 with growing intolerance and harassment of religious minorities by state and non-state actors. In some cases, religious minorities were barred or prevented from expressing their faith openly or from carrying out their faith-based events and programmes. The degree of religious intolerance in Malaysia was also reflected in several incidents and the views held by various religious preachers in the country.

As for free and fair elections, in 2017 the Election Commission attempted to force through its re-delineation programme throughout Malaysia. The United Malay National Organization (UMNO) also played an active role in hampering the registration of new voters by filing ‘empty’ objections against new voters.

The appointment of Raus Sharif to the position of Chief Justice and Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin to the Court of Appeal President revived the concern for judicial independence in Malaysia. The legal fraternity and civil society expressed concern toward the legality and constitutionality of their appointments with respect to their retirement age and the processes behind their appointment.

Issues pertaining to Gender and Sexuality in 2017 revolved around the attack and harassment against LGBTIQ activists with non-state actors singling out individual activists who are perceived as organizers or supporters of the LGBTIQ community. On a more positive note, there were attempts by lawmakers in Penang to acknowledge the plight and challenges faced by the transgender community in Penang, and a call to officially recognize the findings and recommendations of a symposium held in the state.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia regained its financial capacity following the readjustment of its annual budget. Unfortunately, the restoration of its working capacity in terms of funding did not stop misrepresentations by the Malaysian government. The Commission was misquoted or misrepresented by ministers in their statements on human rights issues.

The Indigenous Peoples of Malaysia successfully brought human rights violations experienced by the community to the forefront of Malaysian news. Between the courageous stance adopted by the community in Kelantan and legal opposition to land grabbing, some gains were made in 2017. Unfortunately, some unfavourable court rulings have threatened to set back decades long struggles by the community.

The situation of refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia remains dire with a growing concern that more refugees will be risking the journey to Malaysia and other neighbouring countries with the hope of refuge. While the Malaysian government maintains a public show of support and solidarity for the refugees from the Rakhine state in Myanmar, the refugees who are already in Malaysia and in need of dire assistance are left to fend for themselves with constant threats and harassment by enforcement agencies.

Four individuals were executed in 2017. The circumstances of their execution vary. The Batumalai brothers were executed while their application for clemency was pending. The long-touted reform to the mandatory death penalty has yet to materialize despite the announcement made by the government.

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