8 Point Human Rights Agenda for the New Government

In March 2020, a political realignment resulted in a change of government in Malaysia.  Amnesty International calls for the new government to respect, protect, fulfil and promote human rights for all, and publicly commit to meet and expand Malaysia’s international human rights obligations.

Over the past few years, Malaysians awareness of their human rights has increased, resulting in calls for reforms from those in power, leading to the 2018 election of a government bearing a human rights friendly manifesto. This government did not last, but Malaysians desire for human rights reforms have not wavered.

We urge the new government to respect this desire and make progress in the following eight areas:


The right to freedom of expression remains under threat in Malaysia. Despite promises from political parties from both sides of the divide, the misuse of restrictive laws such as the Sedition Act of 1948, the Communication and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA), the Printing Press and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA), and the Film Censorship Act 2002 has persisted. This has led many people to exercise self-censorship, and had a chilling effect on freedom of expression in the country.

Following the last general elections in 2018, the use of restrictive laws against government critics declined. However, authorities continued to pursue individuals for speech touching on issues it deems sensitive, in particular, religion and royalty. Disproportionately harsh sentences are troubling, with one individual sentenced to 10 years in prison for a Facebook post in 2019 that was deemed as insulting Islam.

The March 2020 change in government reignited concerns about freedom of expression. Critics of the new administration were called in for questioning, while activists were investigated for sedition over calls for protests. During the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, over 200 investigation papers were initiated by the authorities over the spread of false information, while some individuals were issued hefty fines for insulting public servants such as healthcare workers and the police.

Amnesty International’s recommendations:

  • Repeal the 1948 Sedition Act and repeal or amend other laws which arbitrarily restrict the right to freedom of expression, including the Communication and Multimedia Act and the Printing Press and Publications Act, to ensure that they are in line with international human rights law and standards;
  • Immediately and unconditionally release those who have been imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression;, and drop charges under these laws against individuals who are facing trial; furthermore, pending the repeal of these acts, ensuring that no one further is arrested, investigated, charged or imprisoned for their peaceful exercise of free speech;
  • Ratify and implement in law, policy and practice the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other human rights treaties at the earliest opportunity.


In 2019, the government amended the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 to relax restrictions on processions, marches and other forms of peaceful demonstrations and also shortened the notification period required for assemblies from 10 to five days. Yet, despite these legislative reforms individuals participating in protests continue to face police investigations. In March, activists were investigated for participating in a demonstration against the change in government, which raised serious concerns about the freedom of peaceful assembly under the new administration.

Amnesty International’s recommendations:

  • Review or amend the Peaceful Assembly Act, Penal Code, and other excessively restrictive laws to allow for peaceful protests without arbitrary restrictions;
  • Facilitate the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly to all people in Malaysia, without discrimination.


In 2018, the government introduced a moratorium on executions and pledged to abolish the death penalty in totality, though it subsequently backtracked to only remove the mandatory requirement. However, a change in government occurred before the amendment could be passed.

The new government should continue efforts to remove the mandatory death penalty as a first step to full abolition. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty unconditionally and for all crimes, and calls for its total abolition. The organisation considers the death penalty a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment. The death penalty continues to be retained as the mandatory punishment for offences including murder, drug trafficking and discharging firearms with intent to kill or harm in certain circumstances. Drug-related offences do not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes” under international law and therefore must not be punished by death.

Amnesty International’s recommendations:

  • Maintain the moratorium on all executions, with a view to abolishing the death penalty for all crimes;
  • Pending abolition, abolish the mandatory death penalty and for any crimes that do not meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes” under international law and standards;
  • Improve transparency through making information on executions publicly available and ensuring an established procedure for notification on scheduled executions.


In 2018, Inspector General of Police pledged the force’s support for the establishment of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC), which was first proposed by a royal commission of inquiry in 2005. A bill to establish this commission was tabled in Parliament in 2019, and civil society groups including Amnesty International made recommendations on strengthening the proposed commission, but a change in government occurred before the bill could be tabled for a vote.

Amnesty International believes that the reasons why torture and other ill-treatment continues to occur includes the failure of the government to ratify the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; failure to put in place robust safeguards to protect detainees; and a culture of impunity within the police with a lack of accountability for numerous cases of deaths in custody, unlawful killings, and torture and other ill-treatment over the last decade.

The government established a task force in 2019 to investigate cases of enforced disappearances that national human rights institution SUHAKAM has blamed on the police. However, the findings of the task force has not be revealed to the public, solidifying suspicions of a cover up.

Amnesty International’s recommendations:

  • Continue efforts to establish an independent commission to oversee the police. 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;
  • Make public the findings of the task force on enforced disappearances of Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat, and hold responsible anyone suspected of human rights violations;
  • Ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT).


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. Refugees and asylum-seekers have been subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention in appalling conditions, caning, extortion, and deportation back to the persecution that they fled.

In 2019, the government violated the principle of non-refoulement when it deported Turkish teacher Arif Komis and his family back to Turkey despite UNHCR classifying them as “person(s) of concern” who are at risk of harm should they be forcibly returned to their home country.

On 5th April 2020, a boat carrying 202 Rohingya, including women and children, was intercepted off the waters of Langkawi by Malaysian naval and maritime officials. They were put into quarantine in light of the COVID-19 pandemic but may then be transferred to Belantik Immigration Detention Centre, a facility Amnesty International has criticised for its appalling conditions.

Amnesty International’s recommendations:

  • End the arbitrary detention of undocumented migrants, trafficked persons, asylum seekers and refugees;
  • Respect the international legal principle of non-refoulement;
  • Dispatch search and rescue boats for Rohingya refugees on boats that are at sea, and allow and facilitate the safe disembarkation of these people
  • Ratify the UN Convention Related to the Status of Refugees and the UN International Convention on the Protection on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.


Discrimination against LGBTI (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) people in Malaysia continues in both law and in practice. Consensual same-sex relations are criminalised, while the transgender community faces steep challenges in the form of discriminatory laws and policies, targeted raids on private gatherings, arrests, and ill-treatment by the authorities. In September 2018, two women were publicly caned for “attempted intercourse,” and in November 2019, five men were sentenced to prison and caning for a similar offence. Activists continue to face harassment and intimidation from authorities and the public, with little protection under the law.

Amnesty International’s recommendations:

  • Abolish laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct and laws criminalizing specific gender identities and expressions, including laws against cross-dressing;
  • Ensure the authorities do not violate the rights of LGBTI people through arbitrary arrests, detention, violence, ill-treatment, violations of privacy, and discrimination;
  • Cease distributing information to the public that denigrates or discriminates against LGBTI people or perpetuates harmful gender stereotypes.


In 2015, after a three year inquiry by the National Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, SUHAKAM, the government recognised the need to reform its policies on Indigenous Peoples by adopting 17 out of 18 recommendations made by a Taskforce, including the recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ land and issuing of titles, right to remedy, and right to decide on land development. However, since their acceptance, there is no evidence that the recommendations have been implemented, leading to SUHAKAM concluding in April 2017 that the government had failed in its duty towards the Orang Asli, as Indigenous Peoples are known in Malaysia.

Confrontations between the government and Indigenous communities have increased. In January 2017, following peaceful protests against logging licences granted by local authorities, 21 Indigenous human rights defenders from Gua Musang, Kelantan were detained. In 2020, the Selangor state government made moves to degazette a section of a forest reserve that is currently inhabited by indigenous communities, leading to protests by the Orang Asli.

Amnesty International’s recommendations:

  • Recognise, respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of indigenous peoples, including the right to territory, as well as their economic, social and cultural rights including the right to a healthy environment and their right to peaceful protest without being arbitrarily detained.
  • Ensure full implementation of the 18 recommendations adopted by the Taskforce on Indigenous Peoples following the National Inquiry on Indigenous Land Rights, including the recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ customary rights to land, and the right to free, prior, and informed consent, in line with international human rights law and standards.


Barring some laws restricting the propagation of other religions to Muslims, the Malaysian constitution provides for freedom of religion in the country. In practice, however, institutional bias exists in favour of the majority faith of Islam, which is practiced by more than 60% of the population. Followers of other denominations of Islam, in particular, are deemed “deviant” by state authorities, and often face criminal action.

Every year authorities detain Shiites for commemorating Ashura, a Shia holy day, in raids around the country. In 2019, it was reported that the police ill-treated those detained in a raid in Johor, including threatening some detainees with a gun. They were later released.

Amnesty International’s recommendations:

  • Recognise, respect, protect the rights of all Malaysians to their own religious belief. Take effective measures to guarantee that religious and other minority groups are not discriminated against and are protected from attacks and intimidation.
  • Cease prosecuting individuals or organisations for their religious beliefs, including the Ahmadiyya, Shiites and others
  • Accede to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)