New Premier, Old Pledges, Pervasive Culture of Impunity:
In conjunction with the International Human Rights Day 2009, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) releases its Overview of Malaysia’s Human Rights Report for the year.
Detention without Trial Continues
SUARAM notes that despite the new Prime Minister Najib Razak’s pledges of reform and for greater adherence to human rights, no substantive legislative and institutional reforms have been introduced so far.
Despite the crescendo of calls for the repeal of the Internal Security Act (ISA) by civil society, the much-publicised review of the ISA announced by the Prime Minister has not materialised. The government has also made no mention of two other detention-without-detention laws, namely the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance (EO) and the Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Measures) Act (DDA), despite their similarities with the ISA. With no mention of a review of the EO and the DDA, and by only amending the ISA instead of repealing it, it is clear that the government does not intend to do away with the practice of detaining individuals without trial.
Questionable Role of State Institutions
SUARAM also questions the independence and impartiality of several state institutions, particularly the police, the judiciary and the monarchy, and their controversial involvement in the Barisan Nasional (BN)’s attempts to regain its losses suffered in the last General Election held in the previous year. The report notes that these institutions played questionable roles in the BN’s takeover of the state of Perak from Pakatan Rakyat in 2009.
Pervasive Culture of Impunity
The pervasive culture of impunity by the police and other enforcement agencies in the country all these years has continued with the expose of more cases of death in custody and those caused by police shootings in 2009. SUARAM notes that inquests into deaths in police custody generally take a long time to resolve, with many long overdue cases still pending in the courts.
Of the seven deaths in custody recorded by SUARAM in 2009, only one policeman has been held accountable. Even in this case, the policeman concerned was not charged for murder, but for causing grievous hurt to A. Kugan. Kugan had died in January 2009 and evidence produced in a second and independent post-mortem revealed that Kugan had been beaten to death.
SUARAM also highlights the worrying trend of deaths by police shooting, citing several widely-publicised cases which surfaced in 2009, revealing the weak procedures and lack of accountability of the police in discharging firearms.
Further exacerbating the culture of impunity in the country was the government’s decision not prosecute senior lawyer V.K. Lingam despite the findings of a Commission of Enquiry, confirming the authenticity of a videotape which showed Lingam’s involvement in the attempt to influence the appointment of judges.
Human Rights in Malaysia, 2009: Facts and Figures
SUARAM’s report includes several important facts and figures which illustrate the dire situation of human rights in the country.
In 2009, the government made seven arrests under the ISA, while 39 individuals were released. As of 1 December 2009, nine detainees are still being detained without trial under the ISA. This number includes Shamsuddin Sulaiman, an alleged Jemaah Islamiah member who has been detained under the ISA since 2002.
While there are no available official statistics on deaths in police custody in 2009, SUARAM has recorded at least seven such cases through media monitoring throughout the year. There was also one case of death in the custody of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in 2009, that of Teoh Beng Hock.
Freedoms of speech, expression and assembly were most seriously undermined with the massive crackdown of individuals taking part in various forms of protest against the BN government and its policies. SUARAM notes that 167 individuals were arrested in May alone, in relation to peaceful protests against the unconstitutional regime change in Perak. Their actions included dressing in black, fasting and holding candlelight vigils. On 1 August, 589 individuals were arrested for participating in the mammoth rally against the ISA. The massive number of those arrested in 2009 demonstrates an increased level of intolerance of dissent by the new changeover of BN leadership under Najib Razak compared to that of his predecessor.
In 2009, Malaysia was once again ranked in the bottom rung of the Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF)’s Press Freedom Index, sitting at the 131st position. The media continues to be curbed by the government with various repressive laws and policies despite Najib announcing the lifting of the ban on two news publications on the very first day of his premiership.
SUARAM also deplores the government for its continued refusal to recognise refugees in the country which has resulted in Malaysia being named by an international watchdog as one of the worst places in the world for refugees.
Demands to the Government
Based on its observations made on the current state of human rights in Malaysia, SUARAM calls upon the government to:
1. Release all individuals detained without trial under the ISA, EO and the DDA; and immediately repeal all three detention-without-trial laws.
2. Immediately hold inquests into all cases of death in the custody as well as cases of death by shooting by law enforcement agencies. The government must also set up a Coroner’s Court to investigate all cases of deaths in custody as recommended by the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code.
3. Release a comprehensive status report and review of the implementation and non-implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Police.
4. Repeal the Sedition Act, Official Secrets Act and all other legislations which curb the fundamental right to freedom of expression and enact a Freedom of Information Act.
5. Repeal Section 27 of the Police Act to allow peaceful assemblies.
6. Recognise the status of refugees and ratify the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees.
7. Enact a Race Relations Act and a permanent Race Relations Commission to outlaw racism and incitement of racial hatred.
8. Restore the independence of the judiciary, by implementing all recommendations made by the Commission of Enquiry into the “Lingam Tape”. The Judicial Appointments Commission must also be strengthened by giving it more independence and ensuring broader representation in the Commission.
9. Extend standing invitations to all Special Procedures Mandate Holders of the United Nations. The government must immediately respond with urgency in particular the pending requests for visits by nine Special Procedures Mandate Holders, including the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.
10. Ratify all remaining core international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention Against Torture (CAT) and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD); and remove all reservations on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
SUARAM’s 20th Anniversary and Human Rights Award for 2009
SUARAM, in celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, has presented its 11th Annual Human Rights Award to Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA (GMI) during its fundraising dinner on 6 December 2009. GMI was nominated for the annual award together with four other groups, namely the AJK Bertindak Kampung Lebor, Serian Sarawak; the Bukit Koman Anti-Cyanide Committee; Gerakan Mansuhkan PPSMI (GMP); and Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (JERIT)’s ‘Ride for Change’ Cyclists.
The winner was picked by a panel of judges comprising Colin Nicholas from the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC), Syamsuriatina Ishak from the Human Rights Committee of the Malaysian Bar Council; and Masjaliza Hamzah, secretariat member of SUARAM. The judging was based on three main criteria – persistence, fearlessness and empowerment in the defence of human rights.