Malaysia: Raft of police investigations a blatant attempt to intimidate peaceful protesters

The investigation of more than 20 peaceful protesters after they held two demonstrations in Malaysia over the weekend is an alarming sign of the new government’s attitude towards human rights, Amnesty International said today.

Police have summoned at least 20 human rights defenders and political activists to give statements or undergo questioning later today. Among them is lawyer Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, one of the protest organizers. She was already questioned on 3 March and was forced to allow the police access to her Twitter account.

Police summons in response to peaceful protests are a return to Malaysia’s authoritarian past. (...) This new government must not reverse human rights progress achieved over the last two years.
Nicholas Bequelin

“Police summons in response to peaceful protests are a return to Malaysia’s authoritarian past,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Regional Director.

“This new government must not reverse human rights progress achieved over the last two years. These investigations are baseless and must be dropped – Malaysian people in the country must be allowed to come together and demonstrate peacefully.”

Following a week of political confusion, on 29 February the King appointed Muhyiddin Yassin, a former Home Minister, as the country’s new Prime Minister. It followed days of uncertainty after the country’s previous leader, Mahathir Mohamad, resigned from the post after splits emerged within the Pakatan Harapan coalition he headed up.

Yassin was appointed after he received support from the longtime ruling party, UMNO, who were defeated at the polls in 2018. The move sparked outcry from those who considered his appointment to be a denial of the 2018 election results, which saw the reformist Pakatan Harapan bloc coming into office.

An assembly organized via social media to protest against the appointment of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was held on 29 February 2020 in Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur. Another demonstration was held in front of a shopping centre in downtown Kuala Lumpur the following day.

Fadiah Nadwa Fikri was initially singled out by the police as the organizer of the protests, before others were called in for questioning. She is currently being investigated under the Sedition Act and Communications and Multimedia Act.

All other activists summoned for questioning are understood to have taken the stage at last weekend’s protests, which is why they are believed to have been targeted by the authorities.

The Sedition Act has long been used to target human rights defenders, political activists and other critics who speak out against those in power in Malaysia. It provides for severe criminal penalties against those found guilty, including up to three years in jail, a heavy fine, or both.

“Malaysia’s new government must urgently reassure the public that it will respect and protect the human rights of all people in Malaysia – including government critics,” said Nicholas Bequelin.

“Changes in government must not stop vital human rights reforms, including the abolition of repressive laws such as the Sedition Act.”

Background

Malaysian authorities have repeatedly used laws such as the Penal Code, the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) and the Sedition Act to target peaceful protestors.

The Sedition Act criminalizes a wide array of acts, including those “with a tendency to excite disaffection against any Ruler or government” or to “question any matter” protected by Malaysia’s Constitution. Those found guilty can face three years in jail or be fined up to MYR 5,000 (approximately USD 1,570).

The law does not comply with international human rights law, and violates the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, which are enshrined in Article 19 and 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and also guaranteed in the Malaysian Constitution.

Fadiah Nadwa Fikri is being investigated under Section 4(1)(a) of the Sedition Act which defines the offence of attempt to commit seditious acts, and Section 233(1)(a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act which defines the offence of improper use of network facilities in order to harass another person.