Despite the pessimism many are feeling, Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia urges all Malaysians to soldier on because we are our own hope to stop the rot.
As Malaysia joined the world in commemorating International Human Rights Day on 10 December, perhaps it is a good time to reflect on our own human rights record. The theme for this year’s celebration is ‘Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always’.
2015 is a year in which Malaysia holds the chairmanship of Asean. 2015 is also the year when Malaysia begins its two-year tenure at the UN Security Council. This should be a year for Malaysia to set an exemplary leadership and be a frontline leader of human rights. Sadly, this is not the case.
When the government made the move to abolish the Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA) and three emergency proclamations, it was received with a sense of cautious optimism by civil society, which was concerned that the government would continue to use other laws or enact similar new laws to suppress legitimate dissenting voices.
In 2015, this suspicion has been proven to be well founded. The use of prolonged detention to stifle political opposition, which was rampant under the ISA, has made a comeback.
The latest case was when Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma) was used to detain Khairuddin Abu Hassan, for making several police reports in the country and overseas pertaining to the scandal of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), and his lawyer, Matthias Chang. The duo were charged with Section 124L of the Penal Code for sabotaging the economy.
Other laws that have been widely abused in 2015 to investigate/charge dissidents include Section 124 (b) of the Penal Code (concerning activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy), Section 143 of the Penal Code (concerning unlawful assembly), the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 (PAA), the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, and of course, the Sedition Act 1948.
The government reneged on its promise in 2012 to abolish the Sedition Act and instead amended the law in 2015 to make it more draconian. In December 2015, the National Security Council Bill, which allows the authority eto xercise emergency-like powers without the proclamation of an emergency (which can only be made by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong), was hastily tabled and passed in the Lower House of Parliament.
Besides Matthias Chang, another lawyer also got into trouble for acting for his client. Americk Sidhu was questioned by the police for the statuary declaration made by his client, Charles Morais, brother of the murdered deputy public prosecutor Kevin Morais.
The right to legal representation for individuals and the guarantee that the counsel will not be prosecuted for providing legal representation are paramount for the rule of law. Without these, there will only be rule by law, where laws are to oppress rather than to protect citizens.
While the government loves to claim to act to preserve national unity and racial harmony, its actions often show its double standards. For example, while the organisers or participants of several rallies such as the #KitaLawan rally, the May Day Anti-GST rally and the Bersih 4 rally were charged, the organisers and participants of the racially charged Himpunan Rakyat Bersatu on Malaysia Day were let off the hook.
While the nation is engulfed by racial rhetoric and hate speech, there is little improvement being made in addressing the plight of the most marginalised ethnic group, the indigenous people. The incident in which seven Orang Asli students went missing, which ended with the rescue of two in poor health and the death of five others, reminds us of the state affairs faced by the indigenous people and their difficulty in attaining basic needs such as education.
With all these depressing developments, it is hard to be optimistic about the state of human rights in Malaysia for the year 2016 and beyond. Exactly because of that, Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia urges all Malaysians to soldier on because we are our own hope to stop the rot.
Executive Council, Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia