Tuesday, July 26, 2011

‘Moderate Najib impinging human rights’

Tarani Palani | July 26, 2011-FMT

Despite Najib projecting himself as a moderate leader, Suaram says there has been little if no improvement in terms of human rights.


PETALING JAYA: Human rights standards in Malaysia continue to deteriorate under Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s administration despite efforts to project himself as a moderate leader.

In its annual report released today, rights group Suaram said there had been little or no improvement for the year 2010.

Speaking to reporters, Suaram chairperson K Arumugam said: “Basically, in 2009 when Najib took office he wanted to be seen as a ‘do good guy’, he wanted to be magnanimous.”

“But I don’t think he wants to lose power by giving people more liberty like what happened to (former PM) Abdullah Ahmad Badawi so he continues to impinge on people’s liberties,” he added.

In its executive summary, Suaram claimed that the government resorted to increasingly regressive steps to suppress political and social dissent as it geared up for the general election.

Noting that human rights defenders, student activists and political opponents came under specific attack, Suaram also said that political harassment of the media resulted in self-censorship and the sacking of media personnel.

“In an attempt to control the unruly cyberspace, the government has announced plans to introduce guidelines for cyber-sedition,” it added.

Politicising race and religion

On the issue of race and religion, Suaram said that the government continued to politicise these issues as seen in the barring of non-Muslims from using the term Allah.

“Despite a court ruling the ban unlawful, the government continued to stoke racial and religious tensions by immediately announcing it would appeal.

“The divisive issue therefore remains in the public psyche,” it said, recounting the fire-bombing of several churches during the height of the controversy.

Suaram also said that government policies continued to institutionalise racism, and government officials had made racist remarks with immunity.

“Human rights abuses are increasing as a direct result of this continuing politicisation of race and religion,” it added.

The executive summary also pointed out that the government continued to allow Islamic authorities to determine unilateral conversion of children and the religious status of the deceased.

“The jurisdiction for such remains confused and civil courts continue to abdicate their responsibilities exclusively to Syariah courts,” it read.

According to Suaram, the government was unwilling to challenge Islamic authorities and conservative Muslims for fear of losing Malay votes.

“In the meantime, human rights violations increase. Non-Sunni Islam remains outlawed, with worshippers labelled as ‘deviationists’ and arrested,” it added.

‘Ineffective judiciary’

Taking a swipe at the judiciary, Suaram claimed that one of the most alarming features of Malaysia’s human rights landscape was that the judiciary was overwhelmingly ineffective at protecting human rights and delivering justice to the people.

The rights group accused the judiciary of making politically-aligned rulings that propped up the government and police, further violating the rights of detainees, protesters and the public.

“The courts continue to demonstrate a pro-establishment bias, handing down decisions in favour of BN when there are contestations with Pakatan Rakyat,” it said.

Suaram also noted that the culture of impunity continued to prevail among the police and other enforcement agencies.

“Complaints against the police increase and the police seem to be getting more ‘trigger happy’ as time goes on.

“The police force is in crisis and needs strategic and ongoing leadership to ensure that law enforcement works for the public and not against them,” it said.

The report said that there had been 18 deaths as a result of police shooting last year, adding that there might be many more undocumented cases.

It also reported that deaths in police custody decreased from 13 in 2008 to seven in 2009.

Authorities must be accountable

However, Suaram coordinator Hasbeemasputra Abu Bakar said that the report was not merely about numbers but rather about the authorities’ accountability.

“Just because the number of deaths go down doesn’t mean things have gotten better. The question is when things go wrong, where is the accountability?” he asked.

On the same note, Suaram stressed on the lack of political will to establish an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).

This, the rights group added, continued to retard effective and safe law enforcement.

Turning its focus on Suhakam, the executive summary criticised the government for not giving the commission the independence and power it needed, while turning a deaf ear to its recommendations.

As for laws which provide for detention without trial, Suaram said the authorities were stretching the laws limitations.

Such instances were the arrests of alleged human traffickers under the Internal Security Act, when there was designated law under the Penal Code to prosecute such offenders.

Twenty five arrests were made under the ISA in 2010. Out of this, Suaram said, nine were detained for human trafficking.

EO, the new trend

Suaram director Kua Sia Soong also said that there were similar developments with the Emergency Ordinance (EO).

He refered to the detention of the six Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) members under the EO last month for allegedly playing a role in the Bersih 2.0 rally.

“Traditionally, the EO is used for alleged kingpins and criminals. These six are probably a new trend, maybe because they (the government) are a bit shy over (public) condemnation of the use of ISA,” he said.

The report also noted that the number of those detained under the EO had increased by 400% over the last 10 years.

Thumbs up for FOI

On a positive note, Suaram said Malaysia had chalked up several human rights victories, but these were in the Pakatan Rakyat-controlled states of Penang and Selangor.

“The introduction of Freedom of Information (FOI) bills in the opposition-run states are tangible examples of how human rights can be advanced in a tangible manner,” it said.

Some 100 people, including foreign dignitaries, attended the launch of Suaram’s Malaysian Human Rights Report 2010.

The 226-page report is divided into 10 chapters and covered topics such as detention without trial, abuse of power by the police and other enforcement agencies, freedom of religion, refugees, asylum seekers, undocumented migrants and trafficked persons and other areas.

The report also noted that it was “shocking” that such violations continued despite Malaysia’s appointment to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2010.

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