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Amnesty International Malaysia flags Putrajaya's failure to reform restrictive laws

Publish date: Wed, 24 Apr 2024, 01:23 PM

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian government failed to fulfil commitments to reform restrictive laws, and laws that threaten civic space and further human rights violations in the country, says Amnesty International Malaysia.

In the launch of its annual 'The State of the World's Human Rights' report, its executive director Katrina Jorene Maliamauv said the government must acknowledge its shortcomings and work more collaboratively with civil society groups to ensure that policies and practices are brought in line with international human rights law and standards.

She said the report highlights various developments and trends in key areas where human rights concerns continued to persist in the country last year, including the death penalty, freedom of expression, police violence and custodial deaths, refugee and migrant rights, indigenous peoples' rights, and the right to a healthy environment.

Maliamauv said despite some positive developments, such as the abolition of the mandatory death penalty, the government should move towards full abolition of the death penalty to join the global majority.

"Fully abolishing the death penalty would demonstrate the commitment to human rights of the government of Malaysia and be an example of the needed leadership for rights in the region. Malaysia must indefinitely extend the moratorium and urgently commute all existing death sentences as the next step towards abolishing the death penalty entirely," she said.

She said the report also highlighted the shrinking space for freedom of expression in Malaysia, with increased censorship, harassment, and restrictions on peaceful assembly through the use of repressive laws.

She cited a few cases, including the banning of the controversial Mentega Terbang Film, police summoning organisers and participants of peaceful assemblies, including the Women's March gathering and two separate Labour Day rallies last year.

"What has been deeply disappointing is that the government has failed to fulfil its commitments to reform laws that restrict the right to freedom of expression as it had committed to do in its pre-election manifesto. Completely backtracking on its commitment, the government has instead continued to use these laws to silence critical voices and prevent peaceful protest.

"To make matters worse for the state of freedom of expression in Malaysia, the government seems to have launched a fervent campaign to systematically erase all aspects of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) culture.

"This became abundantly clear when Malaysia made global headlines for the wrong reasons in 2023, for seizing and banning rainbow-coloured watches that were being sold by Swatch and introducing new penalties of up to three years' imprisonment for selling or wearing them," she said.

She added that a government that says it is "reform-minded" will need to be honest about how laws have been used to stifle expression and political participation, and will have the integrity to fulfil its own commitments to repealing draconian laws such as the Sedition Act, the Communications and Multimedia Act, and the Printing Presses and Publications Act.

The report, she said, also revealed that forced deportations, indefinite detention, and countless fatalities in Malaysia's immigration systems still persist with a lack of action.

"We learned in 2023 that in 2022 alone, 150 people, including children, have died while under state custody in immigration detention centres - annual statistics that are distressing yet met with inaction.

"Incidents such as these underscore the dire situation within immigration detention centres and the urgent need for comprehensive reforms to protect the rights and dignity of detainees.

"Worse yet, forced deportations continued to take place in 2023 with individuals and entire communities at-risk being sent back to places where they are likely to face serious human rights violations, such as Myanmar," she said.

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