Maria Chin Abdullah submitted the following intervention on behalf of Aliran at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Thank you Mr. President. On behalf of Aliran and civil organisations of Malaysia, we appreciate the report of Special Rapporteur, Frank La Rue, on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression (A/HRC/20/17) at the 20th session of Human Rights Council.
We welcome and echo the learned Special Rapporteur and the Chair Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s dismay over the arbitrary use of tear gas and chemical laced water cannons by securities authorities against peaceful demonstrators during the Bersih 2.0 rally. One death was reported due to asphyxiation of tear gas and about 1667 people were arrested. Prior to the said rally six leaders of Parti Sosialis Malaysia were arrested under the notorious Emergency Ordinance which allows for detention without trial for up to 60 days.
Mr. President, the violence during BERSIH 2.0 was repeated at BERSIH 3.0. While records show a decrease in number of arrests i.e. 388, the acts of violence against unarmed, peaceful demonstrators escalated at a worrying degree. For the record, a total of 909 tear-smoke shells were used in comparison to 262 in Bersih 2.0. The chairperson and its steering committee members were subsequently sued by the Malaysian government for allegedly causing damage to public properties during the rally.
The learned Special Rapporteur’s observation in regard to the arbitrary and disproportionate restrictions under the Peaceful Assembly Bill (as it then was) is accurate. The Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 turned out to be more repressive as it confers arbitrary powers to the police and the Home Minister. The Act provides a ban on street protests in toto and prohibits non-citizens and citizens under 21 years of age to assemble peacefully. The media’s access to public gatherings is now conditional pursuant to the Act.
We are in agreement with the learned Special Rapporteur in respect of the rights of individuals and society at large to seek and receive information guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.In the same breath, we express our regret at the recent amendments made to the Evidence Act 1950 in particular Section 14A of the Act, which reversed the burden of proof to the accused person, failing which an author is liable whenever unlawful materials are published in the author’s name, blog or website or even transmitted from any individual’s computer. The burden of proof otherwise now rests squarely on the accused person.
We stress that the increased rate of hostility levelled against individuals, journalists and bloggers would intimidate and freeze freedom of expression and opinion in Malaysia. We recall the threat of a sedition charge against the Executive Director of Tenaganita, Irene Fernandez, for raising concerns on the abuse of migrant rights in Malaysia. Other instances include and banning of works from local authors Faisal Tehrani, Kassim Ahmad and satirical cartoonist Zunar and the latest demonisation of Canadian author Irshad Manji’s book titled “Allah, Kebebasan & Cinta” (Allah, Freedom & Love).
Mr President, we are cautious, as rightly pointed out by the learned Special Rapporteur, that laws purported to protect national security or to counter terrorism continue to be invoked against journalists who report on sensitive or critical matters of public interest. The Security Offences (Special Measures) Bill (“SOSMB”), which has passed in both houses in Parliament, is one example. A person can be detained on bare suspicion for as long as 28 days.
We humbly request the support of the Human Rights Council to make a recommendation to the Malaysian Government to invite the UN Special Rapporteurs to observe the coming General Elections so as to ensure transparency, clean and fair elections as well as the protection of freedoms. you Mr. President.