KUALA LUMPUR: After close to one year in power, the government has failed to reform repressive legislation and has continued to restrict fundamental freedoms and silence dissent, says civil society groups.
The report "New Government, Old Tactics: Lack of Progress on Reform Commitments Undermines Fundamental Freedoms and Democracy in Malaysia", by British human rights organisation Article 19 and global civil society organisation Civicus, found that the government has made little progress on its election manifesto and has, in fact, backtracked on its other commitments made.
The report said among the issues the government had backtracked on were the ratification of international treaties, which include the decision to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd) and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
“It started off well and (the government) came up with some commitments and some positive announcements.
“But then somehow with that positive start, the government’s commitment (now) has been lacking, (they) started to use the Sedition Act on Datuk A. Kadir Jasin followed by the investigation against (human rights activist) Fadiah Nadia Fikri,” Article 19 Malaysia programme officer Nalini Elumalai said during a press conference on Monday (May 6).
The report also said the government had also failed to reform repressive laws such as the Sedition Act 1948, Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, Printing Presses and Publication Act 1984 and the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012.
It claimed that the government had instead used these laws to harass, investigate and prosecute human rights defenders.
“The government has to send a good message. If you are committed to reforming the repressive laws, you have to be consistent by not using it.
“Put a moratorium on all these laws for the moment, and talk to civil societies on how to amend the law, rather than using it against everyone who is critical of the government. This shouldn’t be repeated under the new Malaysia.
“With the new Malaysia, we are expecting new approaches, such as with the police and those involved in (other) institutions as well. We hope misuse of power, impunity and the creation of fear among Malaysians be stopped,” Nalini said.
The report also found that reform initiatives were not transparent where civil society groups have few opportunities to contribute to the process.
It also noted that there were concerns on the lack of progress in reforming restrictive laws that impede press freedom.
It said the decision by the government to place the report of the Institutional Reforms Committee under the Official Secrets Act demonstrated that the government was not transparent.
The report also said the government’s failures and shortcomings clearly demonstrate its lack of political will to follow through on its commitments and take decisive action in promoting human rights in Malaysia.
It called on the government to act with “principle and resolve, and to follow through on their human rights commitments without delay”.
Among some of the recommendations the report made were for the repeal of the Sedition Act 1948, Official Secrets Act 1972, and the Anti-Fake News Act 2018.
It said the Peaceful Assembly Act should also be amended, adding that there should be a stop to judicial harassment of activists for exercising their rights to the freedom of peaceful assembly.
It urged the government to review the Societies Act to guarantee that restrictions on the freedom of association were removed and that necessary measure were taken to protect the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.
Article 19 head of Asia Matthew Bugher said in the next year they hoped to see the government follow through on “some of its commitments that it has already made”.
“The primary theme coming out of this report is to see more political will and resolve, we want to see the government act with resolve and principal on the commitments that they made,” he said.