The Malaysian authorities must immediately stop prosecuting individuals and activist groups in expressing their freedom of expression in light of Bilqis Hijjas ordered to enter defence yesterday, and the first court hearing of Maria Chin and Mandeep Singh under the Peaceful Assembly Act, held today for exercising their freedom of expression.
Yesterday, the Kuala Lumpur High Court has asked Bilqis Hijjas to enter defence on the charge of insulting behaviour likely to cause breach of peace after she was accused of dropping three yellow balloons onto a function at a local shopping centre that was attended by the Prime Minister, with the words “Free media,” “Democracy,” and “Justice” were written on them. Last year, the Magistrate Court had acquitted her of her charges without calling to defence. However, the High Court yesterday ruled that the magistrate had erred in his judgement. She is being charged under Section 14 of the Minor Offences Act 1955.
This morning, the Kuala Lumpur High Court has called for the defence of Maria Chin and Mandeep Singh who have been recharged under Section 4(2)(c) and Section 4(3) of the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 for taking part in the #KitaLawan (We Fight) protest rally organised by opposition political parties, NGOs and students in 2015. Maria Chin and Mandeep Singh were given discharge not amounting to acquittal on August 28 this year but have been re-charged and the case is now being heard at the Kuala Lumpur High Court.
Both these incidents come amidst a wider crackdown on freedom of expression and other forms of peaceful political dissent in Malaysia. Critics of the government and human rights defenders are criminalised, prevented from carrying out peaceful activities and stifled with multiple criminal charges under the current political climate. It also contravenes Malaysia’s international obligations and commitments to uphold the right to freedom of expression.
Freedom of expression in Malaysia already comes under extreme scrutiny after Chua Tian Chang, a Member of Parliament, has been imprisoned for one month after being convicted of entering a ‘restricted area’ in a police training centre, (PULAPOL), Kuala Lumpur, where he was detained after being arrested for participating in the 2012 Bersih 3 rally which called for electoral reform. At the Court of Appeal, Chua Tian Chang stated that he no longer wished to appeal the decision and instead, would spend a month in jail as a mark of protest of his treatment and the unjust criminal justice system.
In the past few years, Malaysian authorities have investigated and arrested a range of individuals including activists, journalists, lawyers and opposition politicians all of whom were peacefully exercising their human rights. Moreover, there is a concerning trend of prosecutors ardently appealing acquittals by the courts or requesting higher, more punitive sentences on individuals, activists and human rights defenders in their freedom to express themselves.
Amnesty International Malaysia urges the Malaysian authorities to immediately repeal or amend all other laws, including the Sedition Act 1948, Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012, the Security Offences and Special Measures Act 2012, and any other laws which restricts the right to freedom of expression and to ensure that they are in strict compliance with international human rights law and standards.
The Malaysian government uses a wide range of criminal laws to target human rights defenders, such as the Sedition Act 1948, the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012, and the Security Offences and Special Measures Act 2012. The colonial-era Sedition Act allows for the harassment and intimidation of critical voices and all these laws have overbroad, vague definitions of offences which can be and are exploited to stifle peaceful dissent.
For more information, please contact Amnesty International Malaysia at +603 7955 2680.