KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 28 ― A federal minister today criticised the Human Rights Watch (HRW) for suggesting in its latest report that Malaysia is being ruled in a culture of fear with a government that criminalises free speech and expression.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim defended the administration, particularly Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who he said has done his best to rule fairly.
“We want to hear their examples. They (HRW) should come and talk to us,” Shahidan told reporters when met outside the Parliament lobby today.
“The kuku besi (iron fist) remark was referred to some of the prime minister's actions but it was Najib's jurisdiction to do so. He has conducted his responsibilities fairly,” Shahidan said.
He was referring to comments made by HRW Asia director Brad Adams during yesterday’s release of the report titled “Creating a Culture of Fear: the Criminalisation of Peaceful Expression in Malaysia.”
In the report, HRW listed a number of alleged human rights transgressions purportedly committed by Putrajaya, including the use of preventive laws to arrest anti-government dissidents and civil rights activists, and the government’s handling of the Bersih 4 rally, among others.
“Malaysia has gone on a binge of prosecutions of critics,” Adams said in a press release accompanying the report.
He also claimed that Najib had broken promises to revise laws that criminalise peaceful expression.
“The government is making a mockery of its claims to democracy and fundamental rights by treating criticism as a crime,” Adams added.
The HRW report also noted how “repression” intensified after the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition lost the majority vote in the 13th General Election, and that the government’s active use of criminal laws to silence peaceful expression is a violation of international legal standards.
Among the cases cited was the prosecution of Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, a political cartoonist known by the pen name Zunar.
Zunar faces up to 43 years' jail on charges including nine counts of sedition, one for each of nine tweets he sent criticising a court's decision upholding a sodomy conviction of opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
The report also pointed to the sedition charge of University of Malaya law professor Azmi Sharom, who is facing trial for expressing his legal opinion that actions taken by the government six years ago were illegal.
Also cited is the case of Maria Chin Abdullah, the chairman of Bersih 2.0, an organisation that campaigns for free and clean elections, who is facing 20 years' jail on charges that she “participated” in an anti-Najib street protest in February.
Rights group have pointed out that government prosecution of critics doubled recently as Najib battles hard to fend off allegations of corruption and power abuse due to his link with a state investment arm facing graft investigations.
Najib denied any wrongdoing.