Malaysian elections: Next government must prioritize human rights

Malaysia’s next government must put human rights at the heart of its policies and avoid repressive tactics like those that have marked the general election build-up, Amnesty International said ahead of polling day on 9 May.

“As Malaysians head to the polls, they will do so in a country where the space for freedom of expression has shrunk alarmingly in recent years. Regardless of who wins the vote this Wednesday, the next government must usher in a new era of respect for human rights,” said Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Amnesty International’s Malaysia Researcher.

“Predictably, the authorities have placed arbitrary restrictions on the opposition, media and rights defenders leading up to the vote. Malaysians deserve a country where their rights are defended and upheld, not increasingly restricted at every turn.”

In the run up to elections, the government passed a new “anti-fake news” law that appears designed to stifle debate online. The definition of “fake news” is so vague that it could encompass virtually any criticism of the authorities, and those found guilty face up to six years in prison.

Amnesty International has published a Human Rights Agenda ahead of the vote, outlining eight key human rights issues that parliamentary candidates, and those elected to the next government must prioritize. These include the rights to freedom of expression and association, better protections for refugees and people seeking asylum, and abolishing the death penalty.

“Our Agenda sets out a concrete action plan to improve the human rights situation in Malaysia. The next government will have an opportunity to turn Malaysia into a real leader on rights in Southeast Asia as a whole – this opportunity should not be missed. A very first step should be to repeal the 1948 Sedition Act and the Anti-Fake News Act,” said Rachel Chhoa-Howard.