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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Blasting Muhyiddin's human rights record, group calls for changes under new PM

 


International rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on new Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob to commit to respecting the rights to free speech and peaceful assembly, which it said declined under his predecessor Muhyiddin Yassin.

“Malaysian authorities over the past year have taken a very heavy-handed approach to any criticism of the government by harassing and prosecuting peaceful protesters, journalists, and activists. 

“The appointment of a new prime minister offers an opportunity to reset attitudes about the importance of a more open, rights-respecting society in Malaysia,” said HRW Asia legal advisor Linda Lakhdhir in a statement.  

The group said that during the 17 months that Muhyiddin (above) served as prime minister, the authorities responded aggressively to criticism of government policies and performance.

"In the past two months alone, police have opened multiple investigations into peaceful protests and criticism. The new government should end these and other efforts to investigate and prosecute people simply for exercising their civil and political rights" it added.

Among the incidents cited include an investigation into the creators of a short animated film depicting the abuse a boy said he suffered in police custody.

"On July 23, the police called in for questioning Anna Har, the filmmaker, and Amin Landak, the cartoonist, and raided the offices of Freedom Film Fest, which screened the film. 

"Four participants in a post-film forum, including the executive director of the human rights group Suara Rakyat Malaysia, were also called in for questioning.

"All six are being investigated for criminal defamation and other violations of the Penal Code, and violation of Section 233(1)(a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act, a broadly worded provision that criminalises online content that 'is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person.'"

HRW also pointed out that on July 6, the police announced they were investigating the “black flag” campaign for sedition and other offences.

"At least 31 people who participated in a black flag vehicle convoy on July 24 were summoned for questioning. 

"While most are being investigated under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act and an emergency ordinance relating to the control of Covid-19, some are being investigated under section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act for allegedly encouraging participants to join the protests," it added.

The group also cited the charging of activist Heidy Quah with violating Section 233(1)(a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act for a June 2020 Facebook post alleging poor treatment of refugees at an immigration detention centre and the arrest of activist Sarah Irdina Arif, of youth group Misi Solidariti, at her home in the run-up to the #Lawan protest.

"She was questioned for 10 hours under the Sedition Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act for posts calling on people to participate in the protests.

"On the same day, police questioned three members of Seketariat Solidariti Rakyat under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act and Section 505(b) of the Penal Code, which criminalises 'making statements conducive to public mischief.'

"After the July 31 protest took place peacefully, the police called in at least eight people for questioning, including a lawyer who was monitoring the protest on behalf of the Malaysian Bar Council," HRW added. 

Finally, the group referred to the forcible detention on Aug 31 of 31 people who were holding an outdoor candlelight vigil for those who died of Covid-19.

"Photos taken at the scene show the police dragging some participants to the vehicles. At least one participant subsequently filed a police report over physical injuries she said she sustained by the police.

"Two of the participants, including Nalina Nair, an activist and member of the opposition DAP, were subsequently charged under Section 90 of the Police Act, which states that any person who, in a police station, behaves in a riotous, indecent, disorderly or insulting manner shall be guilty of an offence under this Act," HRW said. 

Lakhdir said it was clear that under Muhyiddin, the authorities engaged in wholesale harassment and intimidation of peaceful critics, and urged a new direction under Ismail Sabri.

“Those in power in Malaysia should recognise that everyone has a right to criticise their performance," she added. - Mkini

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