Malaysia saw some promising improvements since May 2018. On 22 May 2018, Pakatan Harapan, affirmed that the government was fully committed to promoting a free and independent media that would be able to report without fear of reprisal. In December of 2019, parliament successfully scrapped the Anti-Fake News Act 2018.
However, the PH coalition has not lived up to its manifesto commitments to reform legislation including the Sedition Act 1948, Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, and Peaceful Assembly Act 2012. Authorities have instead used these laws to continue to investigate, harass, and prosecute individuals including human rights defenders, activists, and journalists.
The Sedition Act of 1948 and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA) remain the authorities’ most frequently evoked laws used to suppress critical discourse in Malaysia; these laws forbid any speech considered seditious, and are especially used against those making comments deemed sensitive, involving race, religion or royalty.
“This is a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression. Malaysia’s sedition law is a crude colonial-era instrument designed to silence dissent. It has no place in a modern rights-respecting society and should be repealed immediately.”Josef Benedict, Former Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s South East Asia and Pacific Regional Office
ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS documented a number of protests that were disrupted by the police, who arrested and interrogated protesters. For example, on 16 September 2018, eight student activists were arrested because of a protest where they made ten demands of the state and federal government, including equal education rights, better public transportation services and job opportunities for inhabitants of Sabah.
Media are under heavy surveillance by political authorities, with several recorded instances of legal proceedings being launched against journalists who publish content critical of the government. Indeed, in June 2018, police held an investigation against Kadir Jasin, a journalist and media advisor to the Prime Minister, for a blog post concerning the expenditures of former King Sultan Muhammad V. In July 2018, activist Fadiah Nadwa Fikri was investigated under the Sedition Act and Communications and Multimedia Act for disrespecting the monarchy in an article called, “Don’t Kiss the Hand that Beats You.”
- 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;
- 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.
- 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