IN the lead up to the general election, candidates must work towards the “restoration of respect” and commit to the “protection of human rights,” as vulnerable groups continue to face persecution and civic space continues to shrink in Malaysia, Amnesty International said today.
Presenting their report, Malaysia: 8-Point Human Rights Agenda for GE14 Election Candidates, the rights group outlined eight human rights concerns they want parliament-seat candidates to place at the centre of their election campaign.
Top of the list was freedom of expression and the implementation of restrictive laws that Amnesty says are used to “harass, detain and prosecute peaceful critics.”
Freedom of expression
Pointing specifically to the recently introduced Anti Fake News Act, the rights groups fears the law could mean a heavier crackdown on dissent as “offenders” face heavy fines and jail time. The fear of this will be enough to further suppress free speech, on top of the already restrictive existing legislation.
Those human rights defenders and peaceful dissenters who have already been targeted should be allowed their right to free movement, the group said, mentioning cartoonist Zunar by name as he is currently subject to a travel ban stopping him from leaving Malaysia.
Ending capital punishment and deaths in custody
The death penalty continues to be used in Malaysia and remains a contentious issue. Amnesty continues to push for the punishment to be abolished and for a moratorium on all executions to be implemented immediately while the procedure to abolish is being discussed in parliament.
“Although we welcome the government’s recent amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, it does little to bring Malaysia’s death penalty laws in line with international law and standards,” said Gwen Lee, Interim Executive Director, Amnesty International Malaysia.
“It still allows for the mandatory death penalty to be imposed in many other circumstances and provides for life imprisonment and the cruel punishment of a mandatory 15 lashes of whipping as the only available sentencing alternative.”
The treatment of those in detention is also of concern and election candidates should ensure each report is thoroughly investigated to determine cases of torture and inhumane treatment by police.
To ensure this happens, candidates must push for an independent external police oversight body to take charge of complaints of misconduct, Lee said.
Over 1,600 deaths happened in custody in Malaysia between 2010 and February 2016. While many are down to natural causes, such as cancer, Lee believes many cases are a result of torture, and inhumane and degrading treatment.
Protecting individuals who seek refuge
The fair treatment of those in detention goes beyond those in police custody and also applies to vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers.
“Malaysia has a long-standing history of confining refugees such as those from Myanmar and Bangladesh in detention centres with appalling poor conditions as well as not providing them basic human rights such as education and employment,” Lee said.
“In addition to this, individuals have been arrested and detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA) and subsequently extradited, to countries where they faced the risk of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.
“It is crucial for potential candidates to push to end such practices; and respect the international legal principle of non-refoulement,” she added.
Requests to protect LGBTI people and stop the “demonization” of this vulnerable community were also raised by Amnesty, who called for candidates to support the abolishment of laws criminalising consensual same-sex sexual conduct and those criminalising specific gender identities including laws against cross-dressing.
The eight-point agenda will be handed to every election candidate ahead of the May 9 polling day in the hope of placing human rights at the forefront of this election, Lee said.
“We believe that there is a significant opportunity for election candidates elected to parliament to bring positive changes to the human rights situation in Malaysia, and hope they will listen to our call.”