Malaysia: GE14 candidates must put human rights at the forefront of their campaigns


24 APRIL 2018

  • Laws used to crackdown on freedom of expression and assembly must be repealed or amended.
  • Malaysia must commit to ending capital punishment and deaths in custody.
  • The rights of refugees and asylum seekers, indigenous people and LGBTI must be upheld and protected.

The state of human rights in Malaysia, in particular, restrictions on the right to freedom of expression are some of the main concerns raised in Malaysia: 8-Point Human Rights Agenda for GE14 Election Candidates published today by Amnesty International.

The document, which targets Malaysian parliament-seat candidates in the upcoming general election, outlines eight human rights concerns for action: respect and protect freedom of expression; ensure freedom of association and assembly; respect the freedom of movement; abolish the death penalty; prevent deaths in custody, torture and other ill-treatment, protecting asylum seekers and refugees; respect and protect the rights of LGBTI people; and recognise indigenous peoples’ rights.


Freedom of expression

“In the past year, we have continued to see restrictive laws on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly continue to be used to harass, detain and prosecute peaceful critics. With the Anti Fake News Act now in force, we could see a heavier crackdown on dissent with severe punishments and fines. This new law, as well as others which stifle freedom of speech including the Sedition Act, Communication and Multimedia Act, and the Printing Press and Publication Act must be repealed or amended to ensure they are in line with international human rights law, standards and conventions,” said Gwen Lee, Interim Executive Director, Amnesty International Malaysia.

“Elected candidates should also use this opportunity to call for Parliament to review or amend the Peaceful Assembly Act, Penal Code, and other excessive laws to allow for peaceful protests without arbitrary restrictions and facilitate the right to peaceful assembly to all people in Malaysia, without discrimination,” said Gwen Lee.

In another recommendation, Amnesty International is calling for the end of arbitrary travel bans against human rights defenders and other peaceful dissenters. In July 2017 the Court of Appeal ruled that the government has absolute discretion to bar any citizen from travelling abroad without needing to provide a reason.

This ruling facilitates violations of the right to freedom of movement and the work of human rights defenders, including cartoonist Zunar, whose challenge to the ban preventing him from leaving the country was rejected by the High Court in November 2017. Numerous political candidates and human rights defenders remain banned from moving freely within the country and international activists have been prevented from entering Malaysia.


Ending capital punishment and deaths in custody

The agenda also highlights recommendations on two key campaigns of Amnesty International in Malaysia – abolishing the death penalty and preventing deaths in custody, torture and other ill-treatment.

“Although we welcome the government’s recent amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, it does little to bring Malaysia’s death penalty laws in line with international law and standards as it still allows 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,” said Gwen Lee.

Amnesty International is calling for elected candidates to bring forward the motion to immediately establish a moratorium on all executions, with a view to abolishing the death penalty for all crimes; abolish the mandatory death penalty for any crimes that do not meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes” under international law and standards and improve transparency by making information on executions publicly available and ensuring an established procedure for notification on scheduled executions.

The organisation is also calling for election candidates to ensure prompt and effective investigations by independent and impartial bodies into all complaints and reports of torture and other ill-treatment by police and any other officials; and ensure that those against whom credible, admissible evidence is found are prosecuted in proceedings which meet international standards of fairness. This includes proposing to establish an independent external police oversight body to oversee complaints on police misconduct and a code of practice relating to the arrest and detention of persons; and ratifying the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Protecting individuals who seek refuge, are indigenous and diverse

Amnesty International is calling on election candidates to focus on protecting asylum seekers and refugees. Malaysia has continued to violate the international prohibition against refoulement by forcibly returning refugees and asylum-seekers to countries where they face serious human rights violations.

“Malaysia has a long standing history of confining refugees such as those from Myanmar and Bangladesh in detention centres with appalling poor conditions as well as not providing them basic human rights such as education and employment.”

“In addition to this, individuals have been arrested and detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA) and subsequently extradited, to countries where they faced the risk of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment. It is crucial for potential candidates to push to end such practices; and respect the international legal principle of non-refoulement.”

Discrimination against LGBTI people in Malaysia continues in both law and in practice.

“The demonisation of LGBTI people persists, despite a Malaysian delegation stating to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women that LGBTI in Malaysia are treated ‘equally’. We call for election candidates to support the abolishment of laws criminalising consensual same-sex sexual conduct and those criminalising specific gender identities including laws against cross-dressing. The government should also cease the distribution of information that discriminates them or perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes,” said Gwen Lee.

Confrontation between the government and Indigenous communities has increased.

“Four years ago, the government recognised the need to reform its policies on Indigenous Peoples by adopting 17 out of 18 recommendations of a Taskforce. However, few, if any of these recommendations, have been implemented.

“Hence we are calling for the recognition, respect, protection and fulfilment of the human rights of indigenous peoples, including the right to land, as well as their right to a healthy environment and their right to peaceful protest without being arbitrarily detained,” said Gwen Lee

Amnesty International is urging all parliamentary seat candidates to commit to the restoration of respect and the protection of human rights in Malaysia.

“We aim to submit a digital copy and mail a physical copy of the human rights agenda to every election candidate that will be running in the coming 14th general elections. We believe that there is a significant opportunity for election candidates elected to parliament to bring positive changes to the human rights situation in Malaysia, and hope they will listen to our call,” said Gwen Lee.

The document can be downloaded online at

To arrange an interview, please contact: Nisshanthan Dhanapalan, [email protected], +6019 2364 793

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]

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