KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 12 — The human rights situation in Malaysia showed a “marked deterioration” in 2016 due to increased arrests of government critics and expanded restrictions on public assembly, the Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2017.
The report, which was released tonight, detailed the state of human rights in more than 90 countries.
“The Malaysian government has responded to corruption allegations by throwing respect for rights out the window,” said Human Rights Watch Asia deputy director Phil Robertson in a statement.
“By bringing a slew of prosecutions against those expressing dissenting views or peacefully protesting, the government is seriously undermining democratic institutions and the rights of all Malaysian citizens,” he added.
The report cited the extensive use of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) to arrest those who are deemed critical of the government.
The CMA was also used to charge editor-in-chief of the Malaysiakini news website Steven Gan and CEO Premesh Chandran after its video arm uploaded the video of a press conference calling for the Attorney-General to resign.
It also cited the November 18 arrest of Bersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, where she was held 11 days under the controversial law that provides for detention without trial.
“The Malaysian government should step back from its repressive course, bring its laws into line with international standards, and start respecting fully the rights of everyone in Malaysia,” Robertson said.
The report also said that the police torture of suspects in custody remained a “serious problem” in 2016, while a lack of accountability for police brutality also remained an issue.
The report also raised issue regarding Malaysia’s anti-trafficking efforts, saying that it had failed to effectively implement amendments made in 2014 to its anti-trafficking law.
“No progress has been made in identifying and investigating suspects involved in the deaths of over 100 suspected victims of trafficking whose bodies were found in mass graves on the Thai-Malaysian border in 2015,” he added.
Over 150,000 refugees and asylum seekers, the vast majority of whom come from Myanmar, have registered with the UNHCR in Malaysia but are unable to work, travel, or enrol in government schools. The lack of status leaves them highly vulnerable to abuses,” the report added.
It also noted judicial freedom as an area of concern, over proposed amendments to the Legal Profession Act that it said would allow the government to “interfere” with the Bar’s actions.
“In addition, they would increase the quorum needed for a general meeting from 500 to 4,000 members, or 25 per cent of the bar’s 17,000 membership, making it virtually impossible for the bar to take action at its general meetings. The bill to amend the Legal Profession Act is likely be introduced when parliament next sits in March 2017,” it said.
It also described discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Malaysia to be “pervasive”.
“Numerous Sharia-based laws and regulations prohibiting a “man posing as a woman,” sexual relations between women, and sexual relations between men effectively criminalize LGBT people,” the report added.