In a submission to the UN Human Rights Council, ARTICLE 19 and 14 Malaysian civil society organisations expressed grave concerns about the deteriorating environment for freedom of expression in Malaysia. The groups called on the Malaysian government to repeal or amend rights-restricting laws and to cease the judicial harassment of government critics, among other necessary reforms.
Malaysia’s human rights record will be reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council in November 2018 during the country’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Last month, ARTICLE 19 and its partners sent the Human Rights Council’s UPR Working Group a joint submission outlining concerns relating to the right to freedom of expression and information.
Over the past five years, Malaysia has failed to fulfil its obligations under international human rights law to protect and promote the rights to freedom of expression and information. Although the Malaysian government accepted recommendations to consider ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) during its previous UPR, it has made no progress toward this goal and has instead advanced laws and policies which further undermine the rights enshrined in this key human rights treaty.
Of immediate and direct concern is a new Anti-Fake News Law that was passed by Parliament on 3 April 2018. Malaysian authorities have already indicated their intention to apply the law against government critics, including those reporting on or discussing corruption scandals involving senior government officials.
The Anti-Fake News Law will join a raft of repressive laws that have been abused to undermine human rights, freedom of expression and media freedom in Malaysia. These laws have facilitated the arrest and prosecution of journalists, human rights defenders and social media users, among others, and the censorship of critical voices and minority opinions. Since 2016, the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 has overtaken the Sedition Act 1948 as the primary law being used to prosecute individuals exercising their right to freedom of expression. ARTICLE 19 and its partners urged Human Rights Council members to call on the government to repeal or reform these laws, as well as the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, the Film Censorship Act 2002, the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, and the Official Secrets Act 1972; and Sections 124(b), 186 and 505(b) of the Penal Code.
Since Malaysia’s previous UPR, the social climate for freedom of expression has become markedly more conservative, with populist calls for censorship and direct attacks by private actors, often in the name of protecting religion, against persons expressing minority viewpoints. ARTICLE 19 and its partners called for the development of a national action plan to promote inclusion, diversity and pluralism in Malaysia, for the reform of laws restricting the right to freedom of religion or belief, and for authorities to take concrete steps to address sexual and gender-based violence and gender-based discrimination in all forms.
ARTICLE 19 and its partners urge the Human Rights Council to press the Malaysian government on these issues and other serious human rights concerns during its 37th Session in November.
The joint submission to the UPR Working Group was signed by ARTICLE 19, The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center), Diversity Malaysia, Empower (Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor), Engage, Freedom Film Network, Justice for Sisters, Pusat KOMAS, Malaysian Atheists and Secular Humanists (MASH), Pelangi (Campaign for Equality and Human Rights Initiative), Projek Dialog, Seksualiti Merdeka, Sinar Project,Sisters in Islam (SIS), and Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM).