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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Covid-19 pandemic worsens human rights situation in Malaysia - Amnesty report


A newly released Amnesty International report has found that the human rights situation in Malaysia deteriorated last year after the Perikatan Nasional government took over following the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan government in February 2020.

Amnesty said human rights reforms, including the formation of an independent police oversight commission and the abolition of the mandatory death penalty, stalled under the PN administration.

In a statement today, Amnesty International Malaysia executive director Katrina Maliamauv said the government response to the pandemic exposed the inequalities that exist in the country.

"Populations already marginalised due to structural discrimination, including the poor, migrant, refugees, asylum seekers, indigenous persons were the hardest hit groups as they faced challenges including access to food, multiple mass raids and arrests, loss of employment, outbreaks of Covid-19 in workplaces and detention centres, as well as a rise in xenophobia," she said.

Harsh actions against migrants

According to the Amnesty International Report 2021/21: The State of the World's Human Rights report, investigations into human rights activists and government critics, mass raids against undocumented migrants and the pushback of refugee boats contributed to a deterioration of human rights.

"Immigration raids, involving arrests and detentions, were conducted in areas with high migrant populations amid rising xenophobia," according to the report.

Amnesty cited several incidents of harsh actions against undocumented migrant, including Covid-19 outbreaks emerging in immigration detention centres with over 600 people infected, Rohingya refugees arriving in boats were detained and later turned away or deported.

"Some were charged under immigration law, and sentenced to prison and caning sentences before the latter punishment was overturned," according to the report.

The report also pointed to allegations of migrant workers in forced labour and living in cramped housing that had hit Malaysia's rubber glove industry.

Human rights defenders investigated

Amnesty said human rights defenders commonly faced investigation and prosecution under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA).

It highlighted that from January to May 2020, a total of 262 sedition investigations were reported and 143 cases were opened under the CMA.

In June, the report stated: "Opposition MP Xavier Jayakumar was investigated under sedition laws after criticising the government for not convening a full parliamentary session.

"Also in June, radio personality Patrick Teoh was charged under sedition laws for a social media post allegedly insulting the royalty.

"In July 2020, a man was sentenced to 26 months in jail for social media posts deemed insulting to Islam. Steven Gan, editor-in-chief of news website Malaysiakini was cited with contempt of court over readers' comments."

Other human rights defenders facing investigations following the change in government include Bersih chairperson Thomas Fann, anti-corruption activist and Centre to Combat Corruption & Cronyism (C4) executive director Cynthia Gabriel, Suaram executive director Sevan Doraisamy.

Centre to Combat Corruption & Cronyism executive director Cynthia Gabriel

"Police investigated Refuge for the Refugees founder Heidy Quah after she posted an account of dire conditions in immigration detention centres.

"She also received threats online, highlighting a worrying trend for human rights defenders, especially women, who faced harassment and sometimes had their personal information made public," added the report.

LGBTI community

Amnesty also raised concerns over the government's treatment of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.

"In July, Islamic Affairs Minister Zulkifli Mohamad released a statement online that gave 'full licence' to religious authorities to arrest and 'rehabilitate' LGBTI people.

"In September, one of 11 men charged for 'attempted sexual intercourse against the order of nature' in 2019 filed a judicial review against the law which criminalises same-sex sexual conduct. The case was ongoing at year-end."

Similarly, the report, which covers the human rights situation in 149 countries, also found that Covid-19 compounds rights violations internationally.

Amnesty said globally, the Covid-19 pandemic had exposed the terrible legacy of deliberately divisive and destructive policies that have perpetuated inequality, discrimination and oppression and worsened or the devastation wrought by Covid-19.

It said those already most marginalised, including women and refugees, are bearing the devastating brunt of the pandemic due to decades of discriminatory policy decisions by world leaders.

"Health workers, migrant workers, and those in the informal sector - many at the frontlines of the pandemic - have also been betrayed by neglected health systems and patchy economic and social support." - Mkini

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