Monday, June 3, 2013

Interactive Dialogue at UN Human Rights Council on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Dear All,

Please find the oral statement that delivered by SUARAM Executive Director, Miss Nalini Elumalai at the 23rd Regular Session Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur, Frank La Rue, on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

UN Human Rights Council, 23rd Regul
ar Session, Monday 3rd June 2013

Agenda item 3: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur, Frank La Rue, on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Oral Statement Delivered by Nalini Elumalai on behalf of Aliran.

Thank you, Madame President. Aliran welcomes the report of the Special Rapporteur, Frank La Rue (A/HRC/23/40), which provides concrete examples of good practices. We urge States to make full use of this report in facilitating and protecting the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Mr La Rue, Media and censorship legislation continue to seriously impede freedom of expression in Malaysia.

In 2011, draconian amendments were made to add a new Section 114A of the Evidence Act 1950 purportedly to prevent crime and for national security reasons. This act violates international standards on the right to freedom of expression as it allows individuals or intermediaries to be punished for online content that they have not created and have no control over. At the same time, cosmetic amendments made to the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA) ensure that the government controls the permits of all newspapers, printing presses and publications. The frequent use of the Sedition Act 1948 to ‘muzzle’ criticism or opposition voices further undermines the right to freedom of expression.

As Malaysia's mainstream media remains state-controlled, ranking 145th on the Reporters Without Borders Media Freedom Index, the internet is a vital tool for freedom of expression. However, in the recent past, websites friendly to opposition parties have been targeted with Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks and the operators and employees of independent news sites have been harassed by the police. Bloggers, photographers, and journalists have been injured, arrested and detained.

In April 2013, just days after parliament had been dissolved and new elections declared, various alternative media websites including Free Malaysia Today and Sarawak Report were targeted by sustained DDoS attacks. At the same time independent radio stations Radio Free Sarawak and Radio Free Malaysia had their broadcasts systematically jammed. At the same time, American NGO “Access Now” documented various attempts to block and filter content deemed “embarrassing to the ruling government”.

One other point worthy of mention is the lack of freedom of expression that Opposition parties had at the recent elections. Opposition party members were only granted 10 minutes of airtime to present their election manifesto on state-owned television channel Radio Television Malaysia (RTM). They rejected this slot as making a “mockery of the democratic system.” On the other hand, the ruling coalition had unlimited time to do so.

In addition, during the election period, violent incidents also escalated. In mid-April in Georgetown, Penang, five assailants seriously assaulted two men putting up opposition party flags. Other incidents included setting off explosive devices and throwing petrol bombs at a political party office and the torching of a car linked to an opposition party member.

On 18 May 2013, 24 year old student activist, Adam Adli, was arrested over remarks he made at a public gathering organised by civil society NGOs on 13 May 2013 where he urged the public to take to the street to protest against electoral fraud. He was investigated under Section 4 of the Sedition Act and Section 124 of the penal code for 'actions detrimental to parliamentary democracy' He was interrogated for 5 days and remanded in poor conditions, where he was forced to sleep without a pillow or blanket. On the 22 May 2013, 18 protestors were arrested at a peaceful solidarity vigil outside the Jinjang police station where Adam Adli was being held. On the 23rd May 2013, Opposition MP and National Justice Party Vice president, Tian Chua, civil Society activist and leader Haris Ibrahim, and opposition PAS Islamic Party member Tamrin Ghafar were arrested in relation to speeches that they made at the public gathering on 13 May 2013. On the 29th of May 2013 they were charged with sedition along with student activist Muhammed Safwan and civil society activist Hishamuddin Rais. All pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.

Aliran therefore calls on the government to end the clampdown on Human Rights defenders and opposition in Malaysia and to allow UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and opinion to visit Malaysia to conduct an independent inquiry with the full cooperation of the Malaysian government.

Finally, Aliran values the Special Rapporteur's recommendations on the right to freedom of expression and opinion, in particular those pertaining to the protection of whistleblowers or other individuals seeking to expose human rights violations.

Thank you for your attention, Mr La Rue and Madame President.


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