Review of HR in Malaysia 2000 - STATE OF MALAYSIAN HUMAN RIGHTS
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
9 December 2000
Civil and Political Rights in Malaysia 2000
Human rights in Malaysia have not improved during the year 2000. Although the Barisan Nasional won the 10th General Elections in November 1999, nevertheless they suffered an unprecedented blow when they lost the states of Kelantan and Terengganu to PAS and the Alternative Front succeeded in doubling their total number of seats in the Federal Parliament.
More significantly, the election results indicated that UMNO had for the first time, lost the traditional support of the Malays. This new electoral shift has been attributed to the continuing persecution of the former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and the resultant Reformasi Movement which has developed in its aftermath.
This movement has succeeded in coalescing multiethnic solidarity in the struggle for democracy and human rights in Malaysia. The ruling coalition has responded by intensifying its attacks on the opposition and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and restricting further the rights to freedom of statement, assembly and association.
Arbitrary detentions continued to be used and there have been more complaints of police brutality. The independence of the Judiciary was again questioned as Anwar Ibrahim and his brother Sukma Dermawan were convicted and sentenced for alleged sodomy.
The National Human Rights Commission did not live up to its promise of a new beginning for human rights in Malaysia even as the democratic space of Malaysians has become increasingly restricted.
National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)
The turn of the millennium held promise for human rights in Malaysia when NHRC was enacted in 1999 even though there were serious shortcomings in the legislation.
Many felt it was a matter of time before the Malaysian Government had to follow the trend in the rest of the region by setting up a NHRC of its own. Malaysians were quickly disappointed when its members were appointed by the ruling coalition in April 2000.
Most of the Commissioners have little or no experience in the field of human rights and there were no representatives from existing human rights activist organizations. It was headed by a former leader in the ruling party, Tan Sri Musa Hitam with no human rights credentials save a short stint as the government representative at the UN Human Rights Commission.
The three key human rights organizations in Malaysia, Suaram, Hakam and Aliran met with the Commission in May 2000, handed in a memorandum on the major human rights shortcomings in Malaysia and offered to render any assistance to improve human rights wherever possible.
All three organizations also warned the Commission that they would be monitoring its performance throughout its existence. To date, the Commission has not been able to make any significant impact in the vital areas of human rights when these have touched on political sensitivities of the ruling coalition.
In particular, human rights organizations have demanded that the Commission should come out publicly to condemn the violations of fundamental liberties, the use of detention without trial and police brutality.
However, the Commission has not responded positively. Similarly when independent journalists asked for assistance from the Commission, it remained silent.
When the issue of juveniles incarcerated in adult prisons come to light, the Commission, after their visit to a detention center, commented that they were satisfied with the living conditions of those 290 juveniles remanded at the site.
Similarly during a visit to the Semenyih detention camp for illegal migrants, the subject of Malaysia's longest trial where Tenaganita director Irene Fernandez is charged with giving false information, the Commission said they received no complaints on torture and sexual abuse.
The Commission merely commented on the living condition. Tenaganita said that the fact the Commissioners had to whisper into the ears of detainees reveals an atmosphere of fear, and since they were not in a position to offer protection those who would come forward and speak the truth, an honest answer would not be forthcoming.
More recently in November 2000, the credibility of the Commission has taken another knock when the police refused to oblige the Commission's request for assistance in its abortive enquiry into the complaints of police brutality during the November 5th gathering in Shah Alam.
To its credit, the Commission said it would be supportive of any move by the government to be a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture 1984.
Two hundred and sixty-eight complaints have been filed with the Commission on issues pertaining to abuse of the Internal Security Act, freedom of statement, assembly and association, court verdicts and immigration problems from April until October 2000, but there has yet been no decision or recommendations by the NHRC.
The draconian legislation, the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for indefinite detention without trial was again used on several occasions in 2000.
- March 2000, three men were detained for alleged arms dealing in Sarawak;
- July 2000, 65 Muslim men were detained under the ISA for allegedly attempting to overthrow the government. Twenty three of them were subsequently sent to Kamunting.At the moment 29 men stand charged with treason, in which the penalty is death;
- September 2000, three Achehnese previously detained to help police investigations into a murder case were later detained under the ISA.Two of them were released in early October while the other was sent to Kamunting;
- October 2000, four men of the Shia Islamic faith were detained with no reasons given at all.
- Early November, another Shia Islamic faith were detained under ISA. Again no reason was given. The Education Ministry voiced their support for the use of the ISA to detain teachers who were found to have set 'politically-motivated' examination papers.
There is a growing chorus of support for the repeal of the ISA. In August 2000, during the 40th anniversary of the ISA, 71 civil society groups and political parties came forward to declare their opposition to this iniquitous Act.
Then in October 2000, during the 13th anniversary of "Operation Lalang" when more than 100 dissidents were detained without trial, these 71 NGOs held a demonstration at the Kamunting Detention Camp together with more than 2000 local residents. These groups also collectively forwarded a memorandum for the repeal of the ISA to parliamentarians at the Dewan Rakyat. The total number of documented victims of detention without trial (including the Dangerous Drugs Act, the Emergency Ordinance) and banishment without trial (Restricted residence Act) for 2000 is shown in the Table below:
- Draconian Law, Number of People Detained, and Remarks
1. Internal Security Act (ISA)
Until Nov 31, 2000 76 (1) *24 of them were subsequently sent to Kamunting Detention Camp
2. Dangerous Dug Act (Special Preventive Measures) 1985
Until June, 2000 836 (2)
3. Emergency Ordinance (EO)
Until August 31,2000 111 (3) *418 detainees currently held at Simpang Renggam Prison under EO. Numbe of people banished to remote area under EO not known.
4. Restricted Residence Act 1933
Until end of October, 2000 7 (4) * It was disclosed in Parliament on 17 Oct 2000 that 2,312 people have been banished to another state or have had their movement restricted either under the Restricted Residence Act or the EO between 1995 to Sept 2000.
Total Documented Victims for Year 2000 are 1,051 * The exact figure should be even bigger.
(1) Suaram database
(2) Derived from National Agency Statistic, NST Oct 16
(3) Statistic for India people arrested under EO. Criminal Investigation Department deputy I Datuk Ramli Yusuff, NST Sept 10
(4) Cases documented by SUARAM up to Oct 2000. The exact figure should be bigger.
The total number of documented victims of detention without trial and banishment in year 2000 was 1,051. The police continued to violate the citizen's constitutional right to be brought before a magistrate within 24 hours of arrest.
Many of the arrested, especially those detained for alleged illegal assembly, were brought to court sometimes as late as 72 hours, even though this is deemed illegal detention under the Federal Constitution.
On 4 April 2000, Minister in the PM's Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim revealed that a detainee had been on remand for 8 years and 11 months while waiting for the court judgement.
The Minister said that this was just one out of 6,695 remand cases pending their court judgements. (Berita Minggu, 4.4.2000) The same Minister revealed on September 29th that there were 743 juveniles ranging from 13 to 20 years of age in remand. (NST, 29.9.2000) Until November 8th 2000, more than eight thousands illegal migrants were still detained at eight detention centres in the peninsula.
Most of these are Indonesian nationals. (Sinchew Jitpoh, 9.11.2000) In October, a Suhakam (NHRC) commissioner commented on the harsh conditions at the Semenyih detention centre, saying that the cells are so cramped that the detainee hardly has enough space to lie down.
To date, the Malaysian Government has not ratified the 1951 International Covenant on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. At present, Malaysia has no asylum system even though statistics given by the UNHCR show that from 1990 to October 2000, over 5081 asylum seekers have approached the UNHCR at their Kuala Lumpur Liaison Office.
These are mainly from Acheh, Rohingya of Burma, Iran, Afghanistan and others. (UNHCR KL, Oct 2000)
13 people had been sentenced to death by courts (Suaram monitoring up to Sept. 27) this year for various convicted crimes ranging from murders (8 people) to drug trafficking (5 people).
The latest report by the National Anti-Narcotic Agency reveals that from 1975 to September 2000, a total of 274 persons were hanged under the 1952 Dangerous Drugs Act (DDA). (Sinchew Jitpoh, 1.11.2000)
The total number of persons hanged for various offences under the Firearms Act, the DDA, Section 30 under the Penal Code and the Kidnapping Act 1951 from 1970 to 1996 was 349. On 11 August 2000, Minister in the PM's Department, Datuk Dr Rais Yatim said that the Government would review the DDA to further tighten the procedures for possession of Ecstasy pills.
He said that although 39B of the penal Code provided for the death sentence for possession of a minimum of 50 grammes of drugs, it was different in the case of Ecstasy pills. (NST 11.8.2000) On 21 November 2000, two men were executed for drug trafficking at the Kajang prison. Their appeals to the Federal Court were rejected in 1994.
It was reported by the authority as the first execution since year 1996.
This year, until October, 53 people had been ordered whippings and jail terms by the courts all over the Malaysia for various convicted crimes ranging from rape cases, sexual abuse, drug possession, arm robbery, arm possession, physical violence, cheating, repeated offender, misappropriating, visa and travel document forgery to impersonating government officer.
Police brutality continued unabated. Police officers who brutalised protestors and alleged criminals got away unpunished. One of these cases of police brutality was that of Mr.How who claimed that the police forced him to play Russian roulette.
Consequently, he was shot on one side of his head and one of his eyes was blinded. A 26-year old mechanic claimed he was tortured by the police during interrogation, where a pair of pliers were used to pinch his arm, chest and penis on November 1st.
Vice President of the National Justice Party (keADILan). Mr. Tian Chua, was arrested on August 8th and singled out for massive assault in detention by the police.
At the end of his ordeal during which he was punched and kicked by the police, he suffered from fractures on his spine. Dozens of detainees from the November 5th rally on Kesas Highway, reported serious injuries, ranging from head injuries and lacerations from police beatings.
A bodyguard of the National Justice Party president was hit on the head by a tear-gas canister and had to be admitted to the intensive care unit of a nearby hospital. An elderly man was badly blinded by tear-gas.
The injured detainees, including those who suffered blood loss, were denied medical treatment for more than 24 hours by the police. Reformasi demonstrators bore the brunt of police brutality.
Demonstrations calling for democratic reforms were regularly put down with tear gas, truncheons and chemical-laced water cannons. Former Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Rahim Noor, was found guilty and sentenced to two months jail and RM 2 000 fine for assaulting Anwar Ibrahim while in detention on March 15, 2000.
Members of the public and NGOs were stunned by the apparent light sentence. Rahim Noor later filed an appeal to set aside the custodial sentence in which a decision is expected to be made by High Court judge Datuk Zulkefli Ahmad Makinuddin on December 15th.
Another decision expected on December 18th is on the sessions court verdict on a police constable charged with causing the death of a doctor last year. Dr. Tai Eng Teck, 29, was shot in September last year by constable Tony Anak Beliang.
In the first 9 months of 2000, 25 people were shot dead by the police. (Sun Nov 17 Answer from Parliament)
Right to Freedom of Assembly
The right to freedom of assembly was denied not only to Reformasi demonstrators but also to unionists, students and NGOs alike:
- On 25 January, 11 people were brutally arrested by the police during a protest in front of the Kuala Lumpur High Court;
- March 2000, 7 people were arrested for alleged illegal assembly on 11 March at the National Mosque;
- On 20 March, three SOS activists were arrested for protesting against the repeal of the Rent Control Act 1966.
- On September 2000, five men were arrested merely for displaying banners calling for the resignation of the Prime Minister.
On 8th August 2000, several hundred people demonstrated near the High Court of Kuala Lumpur after the verdict was pronounced on former Deputy Prime Minister and Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience, Anwar Ibrahim and his brother, Sukma Dermawan.
Human rights organizations called it a 'sham' verdict and said that the trial, verdict and Anwar's sentence of nine years for alleged sodomy, was politically motivated.
More than a dozen people were arrested during the gathering. On 5th of November, tens of thousands of people gathered outside the city of Klang, where they were prevented from entering the private grounds of an opposition party member for a public forum by a cordon of some 6000 riot police.
While the crowd was attempting to disperse, the police fired several dozen rounds of tear-gas on the people and arrested 126 people, including 3 women.
On the day of their hearing, the police prevented lawyers from representing them; only after several hours of arguments were their lawyers allowed to see the detainees and to represent them.
On 9th November 2000, Member of Parliament and Youth Chief of the Pan Islamic Party, Mahfuz Omar was fined RM 1500 for participating in an "illegal" rally three years ago when he was protesting against the presence of an Israeli cricket team in Kuala Lumpur.
His refusal to pay the fine meant a month's imprisonment in Kajang Prison, together with three of his colleagues.
Throughout the year, trials of activists and opposition leaders for participating in demonstrations calling for the resignation of the Prime Minister continued. To date, more than 1000 people have been arrested, several hundred charged in court since 1998.
Numerous reports of police brutality have been made by victims, yet no attempt has been taken by the police to account for these actions.
Right to Freedom of Statement
In a country where press freedom is restricted and the Prime Minister listed by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) among its annual list of the Ten Worst Enemies of the Press for year 2000, the alternative press in Malaysia continue to face insurmountable obstacles. Most evident has been the assault on Harakah, the official newspaper of the Pan Islamic Party (PAS) and the most popular Malay language newspaper in the country.
This year, this twice-weekly newspaper has been ordered by the Home Affairs Ministry to limit its publications to only twice a month. The editor of Harakah, Zulkifli Sulong, was charged in court for allegedly publishing materials of 'seditious nature', together with the printing company owner which prints Harakah.
The trial of Mr. Zulkifli continues. Other popular pro-reform Malay magazines and publications were also banned by way of non-renewal of their publishing license. This included Ekslusif, Al-Wasilah and Detik. In May, the Home Ministry raided the office of Haraki, published by renowned publisher Ahmad Lufti Othman. Over 500 Haraki magazines were seized. Another alternative magazine publisher Suria Janib's office was also raided.
In November, the Home Ministry raided the office of publication company, Penerbitan Pemuda, and seized 600 copies of Al-Islah. In the same month, the office of publisher, Suria Janib, was raided by Home Ministry too. Ahmad Lufti Othman was subsequently charged in November for publishing the Haraki magazine without a permit.
On October 5th, the Deputy Home Minister revealed that action had been taken against a total of 77 publishers for contravening the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984; eight book titles had been banned; 32,869 publications had been seized, and 149,000 imported publications had been withheld by the Ministry. (NST 6 Oct 2000) Another form of alternative news in Malaysia today can be found on the internet.
One of the most popular websites in Malaysia are www.harakahdaily.com and www.malaysiakini.com. To date, these two websites have not been censored or touched by the authorities.
In October 2000, Malaysiakini.com won an international award from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in recognition for their journalistic work and promoting the cause of press freedom in Malaysia.
It is the first Malaysian news media to have won this accolade. Karpal Singh, one of the lawyers for Anwar Ibrahim stands charged under the Sedition Act for allegedly uttering words of 'seditious nature' while defending his client.
Similarly, Marina Yusoff, former vice-president of the National Justice Party is being charged under the Sedition Act, again for allegedly uttering words of 'seditious nature'.
Mohd Ezam Mohd Nor, Youth Chief of the National Justice Party, is also charged under the Officials Secrets Act, for allegedly disclosing 'secret' information on the investigation of several Cabinet ministers for corruption. No minister has been charged for corruption to date.
Mohd Ezam was also investigated late this year for allegedly speaking out against Prime Minister while abroad. Mohd Rizal Mohamad@Anan, a 23 year old student of University Utara Malaysia was suspended for three semesters after the university found him 'guilty' on March 10th of bring discredit to the university after asking a question to one of the panelists, following a public forum on the campus on February 11th.
Kelantan Chief Minister and opposition leader, Nik Aziz Nik Mat was banned by the Selangor state government from giving public talks in mosques in the state.
Later the ban was extended to all opposition leaders. Selangor religious affairs department said they will take action against mosque or surau committees in the state which invite opposition leaders to deliver political talks.
Right to Freedom of Association
The right to freedom of association continued to be restricted by the Registrar of Societies in 2000. On 8 August 2000, the Malaysian Socialist party (PSM) became the first political party in Malaysian history to take the Home Ministry to court for refusing to register the party.
The Registrar of Societies had rejected the application for registration of the party on 27 January 1999. On 20 August 2000, it was revealed that 1,208 societies and their 1,158 branches had been deregistered by the Registrar of Societies in 1999 alone. (Star Aug 20).
Reasons given for the de-registration included failure to submit annual reports and violation of the Societies Act. A report released in October 2000 by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) said that "workers in Malaysia continue to be denied their right to join a trade union of their choice and to freely organize and bargain collectively because of government policies, restrictive legislation and bureaucratic practices.
"There continue to be many obstacles to establishing trade unions, such as legislative obstacles, dismissals of union officials and cumbersome recognition process and legal obstacles to using industrial action to obtain recognition."
Independence of the Judiciary
In April this year, a damning report by the International Bar Association and the International Commission Jurists, titled "Malaysia - Justice in Jeopardy" was released at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva.
This report questioned the independence of the Malaysian Judiciary. Evidence of Chief Justice Eusoff Chin holidaying with a lawyer re-emerged during the year and resulted in protests by the Malaysian Bar Council.
When the Bar Council attempted to call for an Extraordinary General Meeting, a suit was filed and won by another lawyer to stop the meeting. On September 29, the Appeals Court held that there are no provisions in the Legal Profession Act 1976 to allow the Bar Council to convene an Extraordinary General Meeting to discuss the conduct of judges.
Thus the action of the Bar in trying to convene the EGM on Nov 1999 to pass a resolution for an inquiry into the allegation against certain judges was illegal, subjudice and contemptuous.
Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh said that Article 127 of the Federal Constitution states that only the parliament can discuss the conduct of judges.
The conviction and unusually long sentencing (9 years) of Anwar Ibrahim and his brother, Sukma Dermawan for alleged sodomy was criticised by jurists who questioned the proceedings and especially the evidence used to convict the two. Many believed this was a politically motivated 'show-trial'.