Putrajaya tarnished by culture of impunity, intolerance, and missing reforms — Suaram

SEPT 26 — Suaram released its “Malaysia Human Rights Report 2012: Civil and Political Rights” in Kuala Lumpur today, September 26, 2012.

Suaram’s report highlights several key trends in human rights in 2012, including: (1) the increasingly serious and repeated cases of abuses of power by the police and law enforcement agencies with impunity; (2) the heightened intolerance towards dissent; and (3) the BN government’s cosmetic approach to reform and compliance with human rights standards.

1. Increasingly serious and repeated abuses of power by law enforcement agencies

At its launch, Suaram noted the serious and repeated abuses of power – not only by the police, but now increasingly rampant in other law enforcement agencies, such as the Company Commission of Malaysia (CCM) and Registrar of Society (RoS).

In an apparent attempt to harass Suaram for complaining to the French courts regarding suspected corruption in the purchase of two Scorpene-class submarines by the Malaysian government, the Registrar of Societies (RoS), Companies Commission of Malaysia (CCM) as well as four other government agencies were ordered to initiate investigations against Suaram.

Deaths in custody and torture

In 2012, there were 9 deaths in police custody, according to Suaram’s monitoring and documentation. Deaths in police custody have been a major source of concern in the country.

The Royal Commission on the Police had also made recommendations relating to deaths in police custody. The Commission recommended that for every case of death in police custody, the police must submit a report of sudden death within one week, and an inquest must be held within one month. However, inquests into cases of death in custody have been extremely slow, with several long overdue cases still pending in the courts.

As with previous cases, victims were found dead in dubious circumstances in which the police invariably denied responsibility and the cases were classified as “sudden death”.

In addition to the recommendations by the Commission, the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code, in its 2006 report, also recommended the legislation of a Coroner’s Act with a view towards establishing a Coroner’s Court and improving the procedures for inquests into deaths in police custody. This, too, had not been implemented as of December 31, 2012.

The fact that Malaysia has to date refused to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT) despite being repeatedly urged to do so only goes to show that the government accepts torture as a form of punishment in this country!

37 people shot dead by the police in 2012

Equally as worrying are the cases of deaths caused by police shooting, which have occurred rampantly with impunity. According to the Home Ministry official statistics from January to August 2012, 37 people were shot dead by the police with no single police officer being held accountable for any of those deaths. The high number of deaths caused by police shootings in 2012 is indeed alarming.

In a reply to Parliament on October 23, 2012, Tuesday, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said police shot dead 298 “criminals” between January 2007 and August 2012, of whom 134 were Indonesians. In the written reply to Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj (PSM-Sungai Siput), Hishammuddin said the other foreigners shot dead were five Vietnamese, Burmese (three), Thai (three), Nigerian (one), Liberian (one) and another of unknown nationality. Malaysians accounted for the second largest group, with 134 people dead. Next come Vietnamese (5), Myanmarese (3) and Thais (2). During the same period, police also killed one Nigerian, one Liberian and another person of unknown nationality.

2. Heightened intolerance towards public assemblies, speeches and gatherings

Malaysians’ constitutional right to assemble continue to be eroded even though Section 27 of the Police Act 1967, which requires rally organisers to apply for a permit to assemble, was repealed in April. It was replaced by the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 (PAA), which was passed in the parliament despite objections by civil society.

Instead of opening up more democratic space, the PAA is more restrictive than before. It seeks to restrict public demonstrations in enclosed spaces such as stadiums and halls as most public areas are now off limits and the law totally bans “street rallies”.

As the year progressed, the government used the new law for selective prosecutions against opposition politicians and popular movements that are critical of the government or its policies. On the other hand, politicians and public figures supportive of the ruling coalition were not subject to the same treatment.

In 2012, the arrests and police brutality witnessed during Bersih 3.0 rally signalled the government’s increasing intolerance of dissent.

Human rights defenders, opposition and critics of the government targeted for harassment

Opposition politicians, human rights defenders and critics of the government and media (both of the opposition and independent ones) have also been attacked and harassed, using repressive laws such as the Sedition Act and despite the initial show of commitment towards free speech by Najib Razak when he announced the lifting of the ban on opposition mouthpieces Suara Keadilan and Harakah on the very first day of his premiership.

Freedom of speech and expression, especially that of opposition politicians and critics of the government, has become one of the most seriously and frequently violated human right in Malaysia, and this trend has continued in 2012. On the surface, Malaysians seem to enjoy a certain degree of freedom of expression, but there are many topics deemed too sensitive to be discussed in the public sphere, such as the role of the sultans in modern Malaysia and the special privileges of the Malays.

The colonial-era Sedition Act 1948 serves as the government’s deterrent to any public discussions about these so-called “sensitive” issues and this law is often used, to safeguard racial and religious harmony, to stifle individuals who voice out about issues deemed to fall within the wide ambit of this law.

However, the same treatment seems not to apply to politicians from the ruling coalition whenever they express opinions that can be interpreted as similarly “seditious”, showcasing double standards in the enforcement of the law by the police and Attorney-General.

3. BN government’s resistance to real reform

Despite the continued momentum of demands for change and better compliance with human rights principles, the BN government has continued to resist implementing real reform in terms of human rights.

In 2012, the promised reforms by Prime Minister Najib Razak never came. The fundamental liberties of Malaysians remain restricted, with continuing detention without trial, more deaths in police custody and police shootings, gross injustices to migrants, suppression of the freedom of expression and information and selective prosecution under the new Peaceful Assembly Act.

In its 23 years’ existence, Suaram has never faced such an unprecedented barrage of vindictive actions coordinated by no less than six government agencies under executive orders with the mainstream press in concert. All this was in response to Suaram’s legitimate complaint to the French courts to probe suspected corruption in the Scorpene submarine deal. The attack on Suaram is similar to attacks on all the Human Rights defenders in Malaysia.

4. Suaram’s 2012 report launch to honour human rights defenders in Malaysia

Continuing its tradition of giving voice to victims of human rights violations, Suaram has invited all civil society members as well as all the human rights defenders that Suaram has been working with to launch this 2012 human rights report. We are honoured and appreciate the amount of work and contributions by the human rights defenders to fight against injustice and continue the struggle despite the attacks and harassments. This clearly has been pointed by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly and of Association, Maina Kiai in foreword,

“This annual report is a critical tool to support civil society actors in their effort to advocate and contribute to strengthened implementation of human rights. Its continued publication is vital to a vibrant democracy in Malaysia”.

5. Demands reiterated

Suaram strongly urged the government to repeal all detention-without-trial laws, pointing out that these legislations severely violate fundamental human rights. Suaram also reiterated several other longstanding demands to the government, including:

The immediate setting up an independent and effective oversight monitoring body to ensure accountability in the police force and other law enforcement agencies;

The repeal of repressive legislations and/or provisions in laws which undermine freedom of speech, expression and assembly, namely the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Sedition Act, Peaceful Assembly Act, Security Offences Act as well as Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA);

The recognition of the status and rights of refugees and asylum seekers;

The ratification of all remaining core international human rights treaties, noting that Malaysia has only ratified two of the nine core treaties — and even so, with reservations; and

The strengthening of Suhakam’s independence and effectiveness, and the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations.

In response to the increasingly serious human rights and heightened intolerance towards dissent and opposition as witnessed in 2012, Suaram noted that it will also heighten its role as a watchdog of the BN federal government as well as both the BN and Pakatan Rakyat state governments, and further warned that failure to heed the increasingly popular calls for human rights compliance would result in the unpopularity and eventual downfall of any government in power.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malay Mail Online.