Published: 26 June 2015 2:45 PM
Policemen are seen near the KLCC Twin Towers during a rally earlier this year. Putrajaya’s restrictions on freedom of expression, which includes speech and assembly, has been highlighted as one of Malaysia’s ‘significant’ human rights problems. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, June 26, 2015.
The US Department of State has cited Putrajaya's restrictions on freedom of expression which includes speech, assembly, association and media as among "significant" human rights problems in Malaysia.
In its 2014 Human Rights Report on Malaysia, it also included custodial deaths, detentions without trial, discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and restrictions on the rights of migrants who include workers, refugees and victims of human trafficking as areas of concern.
The report also singled out the jailing of former opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, which it described as "continued politically motivated prosecution".
It also noted the use of the Sedition Act against dissenters.
"Restrictions on freedom of religion were also a significant concern – including bans on religious groups, restrictions on proselytising, and prohibitions on the freedom to change one’s religion," the 39-page report said.
The report highlighted the case of Anwar in which the Court of Appeal had overturned his sodomy acquittal, noting that the entire procedure was "unusually speedy" as the decision was delivered just before the Kajang by-election nomination day, where Anwar was originally slated to contest.
This forced him to sit out the by-election and field his wife, PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who won the state seat.
The report also singled out the sentencing of activists Adam Adli and Mohd Safwan Anang for sedition as examples of improper use of sedition laws, noting that at least 12 other opposition leaders, academics and journalists were awaiting trial for alleged seditious comments.
The report cited civil society groups which said the government had failed to investigate and prosecute similar “seditious” statements made by pro-government or pro-Malay individuals.
Instead, the government retaliated against some who criticised it, as at least 12 elected opposition leaders and other critics were charged with sedition.
These include PKR Batu MP Tian Chua who was charged in March last year for suggesting the incursion by armed separatists into Sabah was part of an Umno conspiracy while a month later, DAP's Seputeh MP Teresa Kok was charged for producing a satirical Chinese New Year video that allegedly insulted Muslims and the government.
The report also said Putrajaya censored the media, primarily the print and broadcast media.
In addition to controlling news content by banning or restricting publications believed to threaten public order, morality or national security, the report said the government prosecuted journalists for “malicious news”, took little or no action against those who abused journalists and limited circulation of some publications.
"A permit is required to own a printing press, and printers often were reluctant to print publications critical of the government for fear of reprisal. Such policies, together with defamation laws, inhibited independent or investigative journalism and resulted in extensive self-censorship," it said.
Despite the restrictions, the report stated that opposition parties publications, social action groups, unions, Internet news sites and other private groups actively covered opposition parties and frequently printed views critical of government policies.
It said online media and blogs provided views and reported stories not featured in the mainstream press.
The report also said the authorities were increasingly using the law which prohibits sedition to prosecute dissenting views online, citing two cases in August last year where the police investigated a 17-year-old student for clicking the "Like" button on a "We Love Israel" Facebook page and a RM10,000 fine on a Twitter user for questioning the need for a monarchy. – June 26, 2015.
~ The Malaysian Insider