Still slow, says new global report on Malaysia’s human rights reforms

Malaysia gets low marks from Human Rights Watch over its continued use of Sosma and other draconian laws last year.

PETALING JAYA: The continued use of draconian laws, crackdowns on Shia Muslims and a lack of vigour in banning child marriages shows that the two-year-old Pakatan Harapan government has been slow in carrying out promised reforms to improve human rights, according to the latest global rights report issued by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“The government needs to make a renewed effort to follow through on its promises for human rights reforms,” said HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson.

In its 653-page report on Malaysia, HRW noted that the Sedition Act was still being used to silence dissenting views, including those who are critical of the royalty as well as vocal on race and religion.

The report, among others, took note of police action against several politicians for speaking out against fugitive Indian Muslim preacher Dr Zakir Naik, as well as arrests of people accused of militant links.

Klang MP Charles Santiago was among those questioned by police for criticising Naik’s remarks on Malaysia’s non-Muslim minority.

Last October, 12 people, including DAP assemblymen, were detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act for sympathising with the now-defunct Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

“No judicial review is permitted for these measures. The new government has committed to ‘abolish draconian provisions’ in these laws, but has yet to do so,” said HRW.

HRW also noted restrictions on the rights of Malaysian Muslims to follow other Islamic schools of thoughts

“In September, the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) instructed mosques in the state to deliver a sermon describing Shia Muslim beliefs and practices as ‘deviant’, ‘heinous’, ‘nonsense’, and ‘nauseating’.

“On Sept 6, Jais arrested 23 Shia, including children, for practising their religion, while another eight Shia were arrested at a private event in Johor on Sept 9,” the report said, referring to a crackdown on Shia Muslims as they marked the annual Ashura mourning ceremonies.

It also criticised Putrajaya for not going all out to ban child marriages under both civil and Islamic laws.

It said stricter guidelines in granting permission for children to marry “has not ended the practice”.

HRW meanwhile noted that the present leadership has been more vocal in speaking out against human rights abuses in other countries, although it said this has been selective.

It said while the government came out strongly against Myanmar’s mistreatment of Rohingya Muslims, the same was not the case in China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims.

But HRW said Malaysia bucked an age-old Asean practice of “non-interference” in November when it permitted exiled Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy to enter the country, despite objections from Phnom Penh.

Robertson meanwhile said the government’s rights record would be judged based on its accomplishments and not its promises.

“The government can still turn its record around by standing up and acting on behalf of the country’s marginalised communities,” he added.