COMMENT A few short weeks ago, international human rights movement Amnesty International predicted that there would be increased attacks against the freedom of expression globally, including in Malaysia.
In its Amnesty International Report 2014/15 (AIR15), Amnesty International reported that this year, the world would see “deepening threats to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, including new violations caused by draconian anti-terror laws and intrusive mass surveillance”.
When the AIR15 was launched on Feb 26, Malaysia was in the midst of a crackdown on dissent, which in recent days has intensified to alarming levels: Influential student activist Adam Adli Abdul Halim was detained for the third time since 2013, and Bersih 2.0 secretariat member Mandeep Singh joined the ranks of others who have fallen foul of repressive legislation.
Since the first Kita Lawan rally was held on March 7, nine people have been arrested and/or remanded for exercising a constitutional right – to express themselves and to peacefully assemble.
However, it was the arrest and detention of Nurul Izzah Anwar, an opposition MP and daughter of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, that jolted many, both locally and abroad.
Nurul Izzah’s arrest affirmed the perception that the Malaysian government has been trying to whitewash by advocating for “moderation”. Instead, the Malaysian government has revealed itself to be a repressive, oppressive government that arbitrarily uses the law to suppress dissent.
And it continues.
Anwar’s second daughter, Nurul Nuha, prepares to meet the police for her participation in the Kita Lawan rally series. S Jayathas, deputy chairperson of PKR’s human rights and legal bureau, was arrested yesterday, for the same rally.
Many laws for one aim
Since mid-last year, the authorities had favoured using the colonial-age Sedition Act to clamp down on the freedom of expression. This has now expanded to include using the Penal Code and the Peaceful Assembly Act to continuously rain assault on the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly – rights guaranteed under international law that Malaysia subscribes to.
In 2015 alone, Amnesty International Malaysia recorded about three dozen detentions, investigations or charges under the Sedition Act, Penal Code and Peaceful Assembly Act, including against opposition Members of Parliament Teo Kok Seong, Rafizi Ramli and Nga Kor Ming for, well, supporting their boss; and cartoonist Zunar for his art.
Azrie Situ, Jemmy Liku Markus Situ, Erick Jack William and Joseph Kolis were charged in Sabah for possession of “seditious material”.
Last year, Amnesty International’s Prisoner of Conscience Ali Abdul Jalil (left), who is since seeking asylum in Sweden, was beaten in police custody while in detention under the Sedition Act, but no investigation into his allegation has been initiated.
Shrinking space for civil liberties
And we become increasingly uneasy with the shrinking space for civil liberties. The spike in the attacks on Malaysians exercising their civil rights is an alarming trend that must be reversed immediately.
The arbitrary way laws have been used – and the fact that they even exist – to arrest and charge activists and opposition politicians signals loudly the deteriorating state of human rights in the country.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Malaysia subscribes to as a member of the UN, specifically protects the “right to freedom of opinion and expression”, which “includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.
Article 20 of the UDHR states that “everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association”.
The recent spate of arrests widely contributes to the growing reputation of Malaysia as a country intolerant of criticism and reflects the Malaysian authorities’ relentless attempts to silence critics the government finds inconvenient.
As a nation accountable to international human rights law and its people, the Malaysian government must answer for its actions.
SHAMINI DARSHNI is executive director of Amnesty International Malaysia.