Human Rights Watch today urged all government leaders attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Kuala Lumpur on November 17-18 to raise concerns about the deterioration of human rights in Malaysia. The arrest and ill-treatment of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, now on trial on corruption charges, attest to the worsening situation.

"This is the first time since APEC summits began in 1993 that the host country is embroiled in a major political crisis, with the prime minister using draconian methods to silence political rivals," said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "If APEC leaders are silent, they will be seen as implicitly endorsing Prime Minister Mahathir's actions."

In addition to the arrest and beating of Mr. Anwar, the government has banned rallies by his supporters, intimidated and harassed his wife, and arrested hundreds for taking part in "illegal assemblies." There are serious questions about the fairness of Mr. Anwar's trial, which started on November 2; it will recess for the duration of the APEC summit and resume in late November.

Human Rights Watch said APEC delegations should indicate their concern by doing the following:

  • avoiding any bilateral meetings or official state visits with Prime Minister Mahathir at a time when the rights of Malaysians are under assault.
  • speaking out strongly about Mr. Anwar's detention, arrest and trial. Delegations should insist that a government inquiry into the beating Mr. Anwar endured at the hands of police be made
  • public immediately; they should also call for an independent investigation to be conducted.
  • publicly objecting to the repeated use of the Internal Security Act (ISA) to detain people linked to Mr. Anwar, and the use of other laws, such as the Police Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act to suppress free debate and assembly. Delegations should endorse the Malaysian Bar Council's call for a repeal of the ISA.
  • publicly and privately criticizing any attempts by the Malaysian authorities to restrict the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association of Malaysian citizens during the APEC meeting. They should also object to any threats to expel journalists who cover protests, or moves to detain or deport foreigners participating in the "Asia Pacific People's Assembly," a forum of nongovernmental activists from around the region taking place in Kuala Lumpur from November 10-15.

Business leaders attending APEC meetings should also voice their concern about Mr. Anwar's treatment and stress that respect for basic human rights is key to ensuring investor confidence.