Statement released by SUARAM today:
On 3 April 2009, Najib Razak succeeded Abdullah Badawi as the Malaysian Prime Minister amidst several controversies and allegations, most seriously, his alleged links to the murder of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaaribuu and his past records with regards to human rights. On 31 March 2009, even before Najib officially took over as Prime Minister, serious curbs on fundamental freedoms were already imposed when the Home Ministry barred political parties from bringing up the murder of Altantuya, which Najib has alleged links to, in their campaign in the run-up to three by-elections in April 2009 – in Bukit Gantang (Perak), Bukit Selambau (Kedah) and Batang Ai (Sarawak).
Coincidently, Najib’s first 200 days as Prime Minister also coincides with Altantuya’s 3rd murder anniversary on 19 October 2006. Until today, the controversy surrounding her death by individuals closely linked to Najib, including the unanswered and unresolved questions regarding why she was murdered by explosives only available from the Defence Ministry when Najib was Defence Minister, and shady deals related to the purchase of a costly submarine, continue to elude us.
As such, when former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi announced that he would retire and be replaced by Najib Razak, SUARAM noted:
“The imminent change in the country’s top political leadership in March 2009 is expected to bring about attempts by the ruling party to consolidate its power after its massive loss of popular support and the strong challenge posed by the opposition in 2008. Previous experiences have shown that such attempts to consolidate power often result in heightened persecutions and prosecutions of dissidents and critics of the government, and the general deterioration of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country.”
Despite these serious concerns, in July 2009 on Najib’s 100th day as Prime Minister, civil society in Malaysia gave Najib Razak a chance to demonstrate his commitment to human rights and democracy by listing 10 Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as a set of guidelines for Najib’s policies as well as a performance benchmark with regards to human rights and democracy.
However, to date, more than three months after the KPIs were set by civil society, none of the KPIs listed by civil society have been implemented. Even worse, the Najib administration has continued to blatantly disregard human rights, with numerous serious violations already witnessed in less than one year in power, despite having expressed his government’s “intention to uphold civil liberties”.
The serious human rights violations during Najib’s first 200 days in power include:
Continued use of emergency and detention-without-trial laws
After much pressure from the public especially in the mass anti-ISA rally on 1 August 2009, the Najib Razak administration released most of the ISA detainees. However those released were given 2-year Restriction Residence orders. None of them, including those detained for more than 7 years, have been charged in an open court or been proven guilty.
Despite announcing the government’s review of the ISA as a result of increasing public calls for the legislation to be abolished, to date, the Najib administrative still have not signified any intention to repeal any of the emergency and anti-subversion laws and measures, especially the Internal Security Act 1960 and the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance 1969 (EO) and the Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Measures) Act 1985 (DDA) which provide for indefinite detention without trial.
9 individuals remain detained under the ISA and an estimated total of over one thousand individuals, including minors, currently being detained under the EO and the DDA.
More telling of the Najib’s administration’s intention to keep the detention-without-trial legislations was his Home Minister’s statement on 16 September 2009 that “Kamunting (Detention Camp) is there for a reason because it is to protect (the country) against threat to security”.[vi] The minister also said, “If there are people out there who are threat to national security, I will fill Kamunting to the brim.”
Racial and religious intolerance
Racial and religious intolerance continued to deteriorate under the Najib administration despite his pronouncement of the ‘1 Malaysia’ concept, which supposedly promotes equality amongst all Malaysians.
In August, a protest was held by Malay-Muslim over the relocation of a Hindu temple to a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood. The protestors carried a slaughtered cow head – an insult to the Hindu as the cow is a sacred animal in the religion. The government initially consented the protest only to be met with a public outcry, which prompted the government to change its position and charged the protestors using the highly problematic laws relating to public assemblies and sedition. Najib’s government further harassed Malaysiakini, a news website which posted a video clip of the protest (See below: Media Freedom).
To date, Najib Razak’s government has not shown any intention to heed persistent calls by civil society groups, including SUARAM, to enact a Race Relations Act and a permanent Race Relations Commission to outlaw racism and incitement of racial hatred.
Crackdown on assemblies and peaceful civil disobedience
In this period, Najib’s administration continued to be intolerant to the constitutionally-enshrined right to freedom of assembly and had arrested more than a thousand individuals who participated in peaceful assemblies.
In May only, 167 arrest was make which involve 163 individuals were arrested in a period of 20 days in relation to actions of protest against the unconstitutional regime change in Perak, including for wearing black, fasting and holding candlelight vigils.
The most recent case of crackdown was when 589 Malaysians, including 44 juveniles, were arrested during the Anti-ISA Rally on 1 August 2009. The police had also used batons, shields, water cannons and teargas to disperse the crowd during the rally.
Curbs on media freedom and attacks on alternative media
Under the administrative of Najib, the media remains tightly controlled via laws and regulations curbing free speech and restricting dissenting views.
According to a reply by the Information Minister to a question in Parliament, the ministry had issued a broadcasting guideline to all public broadcasting stations prohibiting them from reporting on 7 issues, including news about opposition parties.
The Najib government also continued its attacks on the alternative media and strengthened control over the Internet. Less than a week after his appointment, on 9 April 2009, a journalist from Merdeka Review, an online news website, was barred from covering Najib’s announcement of the new cabinet line-up. It was reported that when Merdeka Review contacted one of Najib’s aides to seek clarification on the matter, it was informed that the decision was made by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Most recently, in September, Malaysiakini, an online news website was investigated by the MCMC for a video clip of the ‘cow head protest’ posted on its website. The MCMC ordered Malaysiakini to bring down the video clip or face charges under the Communications & Multimedia Act 1998.
Human rights abuses by law enforcement agencies with impunity
Najib’s administration has not shown any concrete intention to reform the police force in this country, especially to implement all recommendations by the Royal Police Commission. Among other things, is to establish an oversight mechanism to look into all complaints against the police. Instead of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) as was recommended by the Royal Police Commission, the government passed the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission Bill (EAIC) which appears to be unconstitutional.[xi]
Because of the failure to reform the police forms, abuses of power by the police remain rampant. Deaths in custody remain a matter of serious concern, with inquests into these cases either progressing extremely slowly or not held at all.
Further exacerbating the level of impunity in the police force, the government has extended the tenure of current under-performing Inspector-General of Police Musa Hassan for another year despite being widely viewed as having failed to carry out his duties and responsibilities in the past three years, with the increase in crime rates, failure to eradicate poverty and increasing human rights abuses.
In July, Teoh Beng Hock, an aide of a politician from the federal opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP), died while in the custody of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC). Despite calls for a Royal Commission to be set up to investigate into the death of Teoh, the government set up a Royal Commission to study only the investigative procedures and left the investigation of Teoh’s death to an inquest which will be headed by only a magistrate. Considering that inquests held by magistrates are often extremely slow with many long overdue cases still pending in the courts,[xii] the Najib administration’s decision to leave the investigation into the death of Teoh to an inquest instead of a Royal Commission demonstrates the Prime Minister’s insincerity in ensuring justice and in ending impunity.
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[i] The murder trial of Mongolian national, Altantuya Shaariibuu, also raised concerns regarding political interference in the judiciary. The trial, which commenced in 2007, saw the judge being replaced abruptly, while Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail replaced the public prosecution team less than 24 hours before the start of the trial in June 2007. Further, a defence lawyer who represented one of the accused claimed that there was “interference from third parties” pressuring him to withdraw from the case. These fuelled speculations of political interference in the trial given that one of the accused, Abdul Razak Baginda who was charged with abetting the murder, is known to be a close adviser to Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Speculations surrounding Najib Razak’s involvement in the murder were further fuelled in 2008 when several revelations, including a statutory declaration made by private investigator P. Balasubramaniam on 1 July 2008, linking Najib Razak to Altantuya Shaariibuu. Among the stunning revelations in Balasubramaniam declaration was that Najib had informed Abdul Razak Baginda that Inspector-General of Police Musa Hassan would “take care” of the murder case which implicated Abdul Razak. Balasubraniam, however, retracted this statutory declaration on 1 July 2008. After the retraction of his statutory declaration, Balasubramaniam disappeared from the country. On 31 October 2008, as had been widely speculated, the Shah Alam High Court acquitted Abdul Razak Baginda, ruling that the prosecution team had failed to prove a case against him. On 14 November 2008, the prosecution team announced that it will not appeal the decision made by the Shah Alam High Court.
[ii] For instance, Najib was the leader of the UMNO Youth, which in 1987, organised a rally at the Jalan Muda Stadium in Kuala Lumpur at which banners read, “May 13 Has Begun”, “Soak the Kris in Chinese Blood”, among others.
[iii] See SUARAM (2008) Malaysia: Civil and Political Rights Report 2008 – Overview, Petaling Jaya: SUARAM (p. 27).
[iv] The 10 KPIs proposed by civil society, of which none have been implemented, were:
1. Perak Constitutional Crisis
Assessment – deepening crisis which threatens the future of our democratic way of life
Explanation – A host of unelected institutions – palace, judiciary, Attorney General’s Chambers, Elections Commission, police, bureaucracy, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission – have been dragged into this unconstitutional regime change. If this precedent is not reversed, what would happen during future elections if neither BN nor Pakatan Rakyat enjoys a comfortable majority?
KPI: Fresh elections for the State of Perak.
2. Electoral System and Process
Assessment – still neither free nor fair
Explanation – Elections lacking integrity and credibility are a denial of our citizens’ democratic right. They also reduce the competitiveness of electoral politics and also deprive the winner of legitimacy. If unreformed, they could lead to political upheavals as has taken place in Iran and Thailand, recently
KPI: A Royal Commission on Electoral Reform before the next constituency redelineation exercise.
3. The Judiciary and the Prosecution
Assessment – still controlled by the executive
Explanation – The Judicial Appointment Commission is controlled by the Prime Minister, making the recent reform a farce. Judicial power in the pre-1998 Article 121(1) of the Federal Constitution has still not been restored. The Attorney General (AG) both controls the prosecution and advises the federal government, resulting in a fatal conflict of interest. The AG also controls both deputy public prosecutors and lower court judges.
KPI: A Parliamentary Select Committee on Judiciary and Prosecution Reform
4. The Parliament
Assessment – still controlled by the executive
Explanation – There is no sharing of legislative leadership at both the house and committee levels. Opposition parliamentarians are thrown out almost on daily basis. There is no provision for the role of an Opposition’s Shadow Cabinet.
KPI: A Royal Commission on Parliamentary Reform
5. Internal Security Act (ISA)
Assessment – terrorising innocent Malaysians who differ in their political opinions from the BN
Explanation – Allowing detention without trial and other violations of human rights is unacceptable to any civilised society.
KPI: The repeal of ISA, with no new laws allowing detention without trial
6. The Police
Assessment – still violating human rights
Explanation – The police still arrest innocent citizens without clear justification. Detainees continue to die in police custody due to unacceptable reasons. At the same time, crime rates have soared higher.
KPI: Implement the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC)
7. The Media
Assessment – still suffering from political control
Explanation – The media remains tightly controlled via laws and regulations curbing free speech and restricting dissenting views. Secondly, entry barrier in the print and broadcast media has resulted in monopolistic control by BN interests. There is no independent public service media like the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
KPI: A Parliamentary Select Committee on Media Law Reform
8. Freedom of Information (FOI)
Assessment – still denied
Explanation – Information vital for public interests is normally classified under the Official Secrets Act (OSA). This has hindered transparency and accountability and also resulted in widespread opportunities for corruption and mismanagement. While Selangor is initiating its own FOI law, nothing is happening at the federal level or in other states.
KPI: FOI laws at both the Federal and State levels
9. Local Governments
Assessment – still unelected and unaccountable, largely unresponsive and incompetent
Explanation – No taxation without representation. Local governments should not be the appointed handmaidens of the government in power and must be elected to have any political legitimacy.
KPI: Local Government Elections nationwide.
10. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC)
Assessment – practicing selective investigations, still impotent in fight against corruption
Explanation – Like its predecessor the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA), the MACC is still controlled by the Executive and has no independent power to prosecute. Hence, it remains the tool of the Executive to eliminate political opponents rather than an independent institution that is truly combating corruption.
KPI: Amendment of the MACC Act to increase MACC’s autonomy under optimum parliamentary oversight.