Jakarta, 5 March 2020 – South East Asian lawmakers today expressed concern as more than 20 activists and dissidents in Malaysia faced intimidation and potential charges for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly just days after a new prime minister was sworn in.
Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) called for authorities to immediately drop investigations against these individuals.
In the past week, a series of protests have been held in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, against the formation of a “backdoor government”, which culminated in a new Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, being sworn in on 1 March. The soon-to-be-appointed government will replace the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, which was voted into power in the 2018 general election, ousting the Barisan Nasional, which had been beset by corruption scandals. PH leader Mahathir Mohamad stood down as prime minister last week as a result of political infighting.
“Recent days have brought worrying developments for those who value the democratic process in Malaysia, and now we are seeing what looks to be a return to the tactics used by the regime that the people voted out of power,” said Teddy Baguilat, a former member of the House of Representatives of the Philippines and APHR board member.
“We had hoped that the intimidation of people voicing dissent at those in power was something that Malaysia had relegated to its past.
“On top of ignoring the will of the people by installing a government that wasn’t democratically elected, now authorities are shutting down critical voices by intimidating those who have peacefully protested. They are showing a total disregard for the people’s voices,” said Baguilat.
Those facing potential charges for their roles in the protests include activist Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, who is being investigated by the police under Section 4(1)(a) of the Sedition Act, and Section 233(1)(a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act, for urging the public to join a pro-democracy gathering in Kuala Lumpur on 29 February.
Fadiah and four other activists have also been questioned by the police, reportedly under Section 9(5) of the Peaceful Assembly Act, for their involvement in a separate protest about the current political situation, in the capital on 25 February.
A further 15 individuals, including a state assembly member, have reportedly been questioned by the police for their involvement in a peaceful pro-democracy gathering on 1 March, the day the new prime Minister was sworn in.
According to media reports, the police have also opened new investigations under Section 4(1)(a) of the Sedition Act and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act aimed at those who allegedly insulted the king on social media.
In the 2018 election, Malaysia voted for a Pakatan Harapan coalition based on a manifesto that promised institutional reforms as well as the repeal of repressive laws, such as those currently being used against democracy activists. Many rights organisations have since said they will reject the formation of any backdoor government.
“Efforts to form a new backdoor government are showing outright disregard for the election outcome and the desires of the people,” said Aderito Hugo da Costa, a member of parliament in Timor-Leste and APHR member.
“In a region where democracy is in decline, Malaysia stood out as a bright spot where its people could use elections to raise their voice and choose their leaders. If Malaysia’s leaders are serious about respecting the will and aspirations of the public, any change of government should be achieved through the organisation of fresh elections. Anything less will betray the trust Malaysian people have put in the democratic process,” Aderito said.