KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 21 ― Freedom of thought, religious expression and dissent in Malaysia are facing “grave violations”, according to the latest global study by the the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU).
The group’s annual Freedom of Thought Report 2015 released earlier this month noted the “serious assaults” to Malaysia’s freedoms of expression, in particular those concerning religious views.
“This country is found to be declining, with human rights including freedom of thought and expression under serious assault... 'blasphemy’ is outlawed or criticism of religion is restricted and punishable with a prison sentence,” the report said.
It highlighted the sedition case of civil liberties lawyer Eric Paulsen, over his tweet accusing a federal Islamic agency for promoting extremism as an example.
“Eric Paulsen, personally non-religious and a recurring, legitimate critic of the government ― especially in connection with the imposition of Islamist extremism ― has been repeatedly harassed by the authorities,” the report added.
Paulsen was charged with sedition in February when he accused Malaysia’s Islamic Development Department (Jakim) of promoting extremism on his Twitter account.
He was charged under Section 4(1)(c) of the Sedition Act 1948 which makes it a criminal offence for anyone uttering seditious words and for publishing or reproducing seditious publications.
If convicted, Paulsen could be punished with a jail term up to three years, or fined RM5,000, or both for a first-time offence.
Last year, IHEU singled out Malaysia for trampling on the rights of non-religious sections of society.
The 2014 report also gave Malaysia a”grave violation” rating, specifically citing Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s speech in Kuantan on May 14 in which he branded “humanism and secularism as well as liberalism” as “deviant”.
Although a degree of religious freedom is granted to non-Muslim religious minorities including Christians, Buddhists and Hindus, the report pointed out that Malaysia is far behind in terms of for freedom of thought and expression specifically due to the control exerted on the majority Malay Muslim community.