UN questions Malaysia over blocking of Sarawak Report, sedition crackdown

Whistleblower website Sarawak Report was investigated, and access to it blocked in July 2015.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has expressed serious concern and raised seven questions for the Malaysian government to answer.

The letter was signed by David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

This is a summary of the allegations transmitted:

Freedom of expression; Freedom of peaceful assembly and of association;

Alleged violations of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly in Malaysia, including the blocking of the website Sarawak Report and harassment of its journalists, as well as the suspension of two other news outlets and arrest of peaceful protestors.

According to the information received, on 19 July 2015, the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission allegedly blocked Sarawak Report, an independent news blog, after it had reportedly published documents alleging a financial scandal involving the Malaysian Prime Minister and the State-owned development firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

On 4 August 2015, Malaysian authorities issued an arrest warrant for Clare Rewcastle-Brown, a British journalist who is the founder and editor of the Sarawak Report, pursuant to sections 124B and 124I of the Penal Code and are now reportedly pressing for Rewcastle-Brown to be placed on Aseanapol and Interpol Red Notice Wanted Lists.

Concern is expressed at the use of the Sedition Act of 1948 to arrest, detain and charge human rights activists, for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly in Malaysia.

In a detailed letter to the Malaysian government, the United Nations gave Malaysia 60 days to answer the following questions:

  1. Are the facts alleged in the case summary above accurate?
  2. Please provide information on the legal grounds for the charges against Ms Rewcastle-Brown as well as how these measures are compatible with international human rights norms and standards governing freedom of opinion and expression.
  3. Please provide information on the steps taken by the Malaysian government to ensure that speech in Malaysia is granted all the protections afforded under international human rights law, in addition to any steps taken by Malaysia to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
  4. Please confirm the legal grounds for the arrests of the aforementioned peaceful protesters, and the charges brought against them. Please indicate how these measures are compatible with international human rights norms and standards governing freedom of peaceful assembly.
  5. Please indicate what measures have been taken in relation to Malaysia’s commitment made at the Universal Periodic Review to consider repealing the Sedition Act of 1948 and bringing its domestic legislation into line with its international obligations.
  6. Please indicate what measures have been taken to ensure that human rights defenders, including academics, journalists, students, lawyers and civil society members at large, as well as politicians, are able to carry out their legitimate work in a safe and enabling environment without fear or threats of intimidation and harassment of any sort.
  7. Please further indicate what measures have been, or will be, taken to guarantee the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in the country.

The letter was dated 18 August 2015, but thus far, no reply has been received from the Malaysian government.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Sarawak Report as the Fourth Estate in a democratic society is merely exercising its’ duties & responsibilities to enhance the freedom of information, thereby supporting transparent and accountable institutions which is important to the rule of law. Freedom of information is an integral part of the fundamental right of freedom of expression, as recognized by Resolution 59 of the UN General Assembly adopted in 1946, as well as by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which states that the fundamental right of freedom of expression encompasses the freedom “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

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