(Bangkok) – Malaysia’s government backtracked significantly on human rights after the May 2013 elections returned the ruling coalition to power with a significantly smaller majority, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2014. The passage of new repressive laws, arrests of opposition activists, and greater repression of political speech marked the apparent end to Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s proclaimed reform agenda.
“Malaysia in 2013 was marked by a ‘tale of two Najibs’ – promising legal reforms before the election and restoring repressive laws after it,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Since May the government has cracked down on basic rights, curtailed free speech, and charged activists for organizing peaceful protests.”
In the 667-page World Report 2014, its 24th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. Syria’s widespread killings of civilians elicited horror but few steps by world leaders to stop it, Human Rights Watch said. A reinvigorated doctrine of “responsibility to protect” seems to have prevented some mass atrocities in Africa. Majorities in power in Egypt and other countries have suppressed dissent and minority rights. And Edward Snowden’s revelations about US surveillance programs reverberated around the globe.
Previous progress on human rights was reversed by the passage of repressive new legislation, Human Rights Watch said. The amended Prevention of Crime Act, enacted in October, allows administrative detention without trial and limited grounds for appeal, restoring some of the abusive practices that had been in the recently abolished Internal Security Act and Emergency Ordinance.
Malaysia’s government continued to bring dubious criminal charges against its political opponents, Human Rights Watch said. The authorities pursued an appeal, extending the politically motivated prosecution of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on trumped-up “sodomy” charges. Prominent opposition and civil society activists are now awaiting trial for violating the Sedition Act, an abusive law that Najib had previously said would be revoked. At least 43 people await charges on violating notice provisions of the Peaceful Assembly Act connected to opposition Black 505’s post-election rallies, ensuring trials will continue through much of 2014. SUARAM and other human rights groups faced hostile investigations and unsubstantiated accusations by the government-controlled media.
Despite government claims about rising crime rates, public confidence in the police was shaken by at least 12 high-profile cases of deaths in police custody. The government strongly resisted calls to create an independent oversight body, such as the Independent Police Complaints and Reform Commission first recommended by a royal commission in 2005.
In 2013, statements by senior government officials publicly condemning lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, heightened discrimination by the public.
Malaysia did not use its membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council from 2010 to 2013 to improve its commitment to international human rights treaties and processes. Malaysia has only ratified four international human rights conventions to date – among the lowest in the region.
“The Malaysian government responded to its electoral setback by curtailing rights rather than respecting them,” Robertson said. “In the coming year Malaysia’s leaders need to urgently reverse that trend, and recognize that promoting and protecting the rights of the people – including political opponents and outspoken activists – is their clear obligation.”