Human rights continue to be threatened in Malaysia, Amnesty International says

  • Malaysia further shrinks civil space amid crackdown on critics
  • Arbitrary travel bans targeted known activists
  • Dozens of indigenous rights defenders detained for peaceful protests

Malaysia’s relentless crackdown against freedom of expression, arbitrary travels bans and violations of indigenous people’s rights are some of the major concerns raised in the Amnesty International Report (AIR) 2017/2018 – The State of the World’s Human Rights published today.

The 408 page report provides an overview of the global state of human rights, and recorded nine areas of concern in Malaysia: freedom of expression; freedom of movement; freedoms of association and assembly; indigenous peoples’ rights; arbitrary arrests and detentions; police and security forces; death penalty; rights of lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people; and torture and other ill-treatment.

“Last year, we saw restrictive laws such as the Sedition Act 1948 and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 continue to be used to harass, detain and prosecute government critics in an effort to silence them. As a whole, we have seen an alarming trend in the region of government cracking down on dissent,” said Gwen Lee, Interim Executive Director, Amnesty International Malaysia.

The report also highlighted the ruling by the Court of Appeal in July 2017 that the government has absolute discretion to bar any citizen from travelling abroad without the need to provide a reason. This ruling allows for continued violations of the rights to freedom of movement, including for cartoonist Zunar and activist Hishamudin Rais. The report also highlights how authorities barred and deported Bangladeshi activist Adilur Rahman Khan and Singaporean activist Han Hui Hui after they attempted to attend human rights conferences.

Furthermore, the report also highlights the crackdown on individuals for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of association and assembly. This was clear when Jannie Lasimbang’s acquittal was reversed in July last year. Maria Chin Abdullah, Mandeep Singh and Sim Tze Tzin who had previously had their charges dismissed in court were targeted again in October for organizing the peaceful #KitaLawan (WeFight) protest rally.

Amnesty International’s report also noted increasing attacks on indigenous peoples’ rights, including in January 2017, when 21 indigenous human right defenders in the northern state of Kelantan were detained along with two journalists. Although they were released, the rights of indigenous people remain under threat due to logging activities continuing without the free, prior and informed consent of the communities. In August, another 11 indigenous human rights defenders were arrested in Perak for peacefully protesting against a logging company.

Like in 2016, arbitrary arrests and detention continued last year with the abuse of preventive detention laws such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA).

Police continued to enjoy impunity for deaths in custody, while excessive use of force and firearms persisted with at least five deaths. They include S. Balamurugan who was allegedly beaten by police during interrogation. Till now, no police investigation into his death has been carried out. In addition, the Kelantan state assembly passed amendments to the Syariah Criminal Procedure Enactment 2002 which allows for the caning of criminals in public.

“The UN Convention Against Torture entered into force 30 years ago, yet Malaysia is one of the few countries left which has yet to ratify the convention. Malaysia should make acceding to the convention a priority and make a firm commitment towards eliminating torture in both legislation and practice,” Gwen Lee said.

With 161 United Nations member states party to UN Convention Against Torture, Malaysia is one of only 32 UN member states yet to ratify it.

On the death penalty, the report noted the amendment to Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952. The amendment allows the judiciary to exercise discretion on the application of the mandatory death penalty in the event the accused is found to have merely transported drugs and to have co-operated with law enforcement in ‘disrupting drug trafficking activities.’

“The amendment to the law does little to bring Malaysia’s death penalty laws in line with international law and standards,” said Gwen Lee.

“It would still allow for the mandatory death penalty to be imposed in many other circumstances and provides for life imprisonment and the cruel punishment of a mandatory 15 lashes of whipping as the only available sentencing alternative.

“We renew our call on the Malaysian authorities to swiftly act to end executions and take the country closer to ridding itself of the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.”

The report also takes note of the continuous discrimination against LGBTI people in Malaysia in both law and practice.

“It is time for Malaysia to make a serious commitment in both defending and upholding human rights in tandem with the country’s continuous social, economic and political development.

“As we approach the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December 2018, this is the moment to reclaim the essential idea of the equality and dignity of all people, to cherish those values, and demand that they become a foundation for policymaking and practice,” said Gwen Lee.

Download the AIR 2017/ 18 HERE.

Public Document


For more information or to arrange an interview, please call Amnesty International Malaysia’s office in Petaling Jaya, Selangor on:

+603 7955 2680 or

email: [email protected]

twitter & facebook: @AmnestyMynment critics and to respect and protect the right to freedom of expression immediately.”