PETALING JAYA: The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the government to end several human rights abuses and institute reforms in various sectors.
Speaking at the launch of HRW’s 2023 World Report, the deputy director of its Asia division, Phil Robertson, recommended that Anwar Ibrahim’s government “commit to ending the death penalty, lifting restrictions on free speech rights, and stopping abuses against refugees and LGBT people”.
The report noted that despite 185,000 refugees and asylum seekers being registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Malaysia has not granted them legal status or the authorisation to work.
Apart from denying UNHCR access to immigration detention centres since August 2019, HRW said, the immigration department deported more than 2,000 Myanmar nationals from April to October last year.
The NGO said this included political activists and military defectors, who were deported without first assessing their asylum claims or protection needs.
The report said that under former prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s administration, the authorities aggressively cracked down on free speech and peaceful protests and increased discrimination and harassment of refugees, migrants, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
It said Ismail’s government also used a range of “broad and vaguely worded laws” to prosecute critical speech, including the Sedition Act 1948 and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA).
The report cited the arrest of graphic artist Fahmi Reza for his political satire, particularly concerning a cartoon depicting a monkey in clothing similar to that worn by Malaysia’s royalty.
It also claimed the police had targeted people taking part in peaceful protests.
“For instance, in January, dozens of people involved in a series of protests calling for the suspension of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission chief Azam Baki were called in for questioning,” it said.
HRW also highlighted national and state authorities’ construction of hydroelectric plants on native customary land and how this posed threats to local indigenous communities and their ancestral land.
Not only were their livelihood, access to clean water and food affected by these projects, it said the affected communities also did not receive adequate compensation.