Freedom of expression was restricted, with bloggers prosecuted and peaceful demonstrators frequently arrested. At least two people died in police custody. Migrant workers, refugees and asylum-seekers faced arrest, detention, and ill-treatment in detention camps. Malaysia rejected recommendations made under the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to guarantee the right to peaceful assembly, and to ratify the UN Refugee Convention and the UN Migrant Workers Convention.
Najib Tun Razak became Prime Minister in April. Political tensions increased in Perak state, located north of the capital Kuala Lumpur and formerly controlled by the opposition People’s Alliance (PA), following three defections from the party. After a meeting with the Prime Minister, the Sultan of Perak ordered the PA Chief Minister to resign in February. During a state assembly session in May, when the National Front government representative Zambry Abdul Kadir was expected to be appointed as the new Chief Minister, the opposition Speaker V. Sivakumar was forcibly removed by police officers. Dozens of short-term arrests were made before and after the assembly session.
Freedom of expression
Freedom of expression was severely curtailed, with the authorities using various laws, including the Communication and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA 1998), to crush critical opinion.
- Independent news portal Malaysiakini reported on and posted two videos of a protest held in August by Muslims against the relocation of a Hindu temple to their neighbourhood. The government’s internet regulatory agency ordered Malaysiakini to remove the videos, threatening to prosecute them under the CMA 1998, alleging offensive content. Charges against them remained pending.
- Following a nationwide crackdown on bloggers in March, eight bloggers faced imprisonment and fines after being charged under the CMA 1998 for posting critical comments against the Sultan of Perak over the Perak political crisis. An opposition parliamentarian, Karpal Singh, was charged under the Sedition Act for threatening to sue the Sultan, claiming that the Sultan breached the State’s constitution. One blogger pleaded guilty with the remaining cases still pending. All were freed on bail.
- Mohamad Asri Zainul Abidin, a religious leader, was charged in November under the Selangor Islamic Administration Enactment for conducting a religious discourse without government authorization. His trial remained pending while he was freed on bail. If convicted, he faces two years’ imprisonment and/or fines of up to 3,000 Malaysia Ringgit (US$873).
- In October, several police reports were lodged against Sisters in Islam, a women’s rights organization, after they criticized caning as a punishment for Muslims. At least two of their leaders were questioned by police under the Sedition Act.
Arbitrary arrests and detentions
The authorities arrested hundreds of peaceful demonstrators, detaining them for up to 24 hours, in an attempt to stifle dissent. Five prisoners of conscience – leaders of the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) – were released. Ten other ISA detainees were also released. Nine people reportedly remained in detention under the ISA.
- Wong Chin Huat was arrested in May under the Sedition Act after calling for a protest against the government over the Perak crisis. That same month, Mohamad Sabu, the Vice-President of the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), and at least 14 others, were arrested for participating in or planning protests over the Perak crisis. Five lawyers representing the latter 14 were also arrested. They were all released after being held overnight.
- In August, almost 600 people were briefly arrested following an anti-ISA rally. Sixty-three were held overnight, including PA Vice-President Sivarasa Rasiah.
- In September, 16 members of HINDRAF, including former ISA detainee P. Uthayakumar, were briefly detained while attempting to hold a candlelight vigil in Kuala Lumpur.
Deaths in custody
- Extensive signs of torture were discovered on the body of Kugan Ananthan, who died in police custody in January. In October, one police officer was charged with causing him grievous bodily harm.
- In July, Teoh Beng Hock, political secretary to an opposition leader, died after falling from an upper floor of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Selangor headquarters. The previous evening, the police had taken him for questioning as a witness in an investigation into the abuse of state funds by the opposition state government. An inquest into the death was ongoing.
Violence against women and girls
Reports of sexual abuse, including rape, by timber company workers against Penan women and girls in Baram village, Sarawak state, formed the basis of a report published in September by a government task force investigating the issue. The report confirmed that women and girls as young as 10 had been raped by timber company employees. However, state officials denied the involvement of company employees in the rapes and police dropped further investigations.
Cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment
People continued to be caned for various offences.
- In June, the government announced that since 2002 they had sentenced 47,914 migrants to be caned for immigration offences, with 34,923 canings already carried out by 2008.
- In July, the Shariah High Court in Pahang state sentenced Kartika Dewi to six strokes of the cane and a fine for consuming alcohol. In September, Nazarudin Kamaruddin was sentenced to six strokes of the cane and one year’s imprisonment for drinking alcohol. Mohamad Shahrin and Nadiah Hussin were sentenced by the Selangor state Islamic court to six strokes of the cane for trying to have premarital sex. All were Muslim.
Refugees and migrants
Migrants, including asylum-seekers and refugees, were often arrested and detained for long periods. The government made no distinction between migrant workers, asylum-seekers and refugees. UNCHR, the UN refugee agency, had registered 49,000 people of concern as of May. Eighty-nine per cent were from Myanmar. An estimated 45,000 asylum-seekers remained unregistered.
Conditions in detention centres remained far below international standards. Reports of insufficient food, poor nutrition, poor sanitation and physical abuse persisted.
- In May, two inmates from Myanmar died from leptospirosis, a bacterial infection caused by contact with water contaminated by animal urine, at the Juru Immigration Depot. In August, a detainee at the KLIA Immigration Depot died after contracting the H1N1 flu virus. Other inmates were hospitalized in both instances.
At least 68 people were sentenced to death by the High Courts while the number of executions was unknown. Malaysia did not support UN UPR recommendations to introduce a moratorium on the death penalty or abolish it. It also did not disclose the number of executions carried out.
Amnesty International visits/report
- Amnesty International delegates visited Malaysia in July and August.
- Malaysia: End caning as a punishment for all offences