Malaysia: Drop investigation of human rights defender, repeal repressive legislation

The investigation of human rights defender Fadiah Nadwa Fikri for comments made in a blog post underscores the continuing threat posed by repressive legislation in Malaysia, said ARTICLE 19. The Pakatan Harapan government must drop the investigation and prioritize the reform of rights restricting laws such as the Sedition Act 1948 and Communication and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA).

Fadiah Nadwa Fikri is a legal research officer for the Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism.

“The government may have changed, but the song remains the same for those expressing critical or controversial opinions,” said ARTICLE 19. “Malaysian law gives government officials and private parties alike the ability to harass people who, like Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, choose to exercise their human rights by criticising powerful individuals.”

On 9 July, Fadiah Nadwa Fikri published an article titled “Don’t Kiss the Hand that Beats You” on the blog Malaysia Muda. In the blog post, perceived by some as deeply disrespectful to the monarchy, she criticised Pakatan Harapan leader Anwar Ibrahim for kissing the hand of Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar. The following day, police officials summoned Fadiah Nadwa Fikri to a Kuala Lumpur police station after receiving complaints from the student wing of Barisan Nasional, the former ruling coalition, and a Malay rights NGO Perkasa. She faces investigation under Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act and Section 233(1) of the CMA.

In June, authorities initiated an investigation of Datuk A Kadir Jasin, the spokesman for the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP), under the Sedition Act and CMA, as well as the penal code’s defamation provision. The investigation centred on a blog post in which he alleged that RM257 million was spent for the upkeep and personal expenditure of Sultan Muhammad V in the 16 months since he was installed as Agong (King).

ARTICLE 19 is alarmed by the use of these two controversial laws—which were among the favourite tools used by the previous government to silence critics and stifle dissent—in the postelection period. Under the Barisan Nasional government, the Sedition Act and CMA were frequently used to prosecute those exercising their right to freedom of expression, both online and offline.

In a joint statement with civil society organizations, ARTICLE 19 called on the Malaysian government to repeal the Sedition Act and to review and amend the CMA during the upcoming parliamentary session. ARTICLE 19 welcomes the government’s commitments to review these 2 and other laws that restrict the exercise fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to freedom of expression.

ARTICLE 19 further calls on the Pakatan Harapan government to signal its intention to break from the repressive practices of past administrations by immediately signing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and taking steps towards its ratification.

“The upcoming parliamentary session will reveal whether the new government is serious about charting a different path than its predecessor,” said ARTICLE 19. “True reform entails the destruction of the tools of repression, rather than merely entrusting them to a new set of hands. The Sedition Act, CMA and other dangerous laws will remain a threat to human rights as long as they stay on the books.”

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