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Malaysia 2022

Authorities used repressive laws to restrict freedom of expression. Peaceful protests were prevented and protest organizers prosecuted. Punitive treatment of refugees, asylum seekers and migrant workers continued, including indefinite detention and refoulement to countries where they were at risk of serious human rights violations. Further custodial deaths were recorded, including in immigration detention centres, but no one was held to account. LGBTI people continued to face persecution.


Following parliamentary elections in November, long-time opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim became Prime Minister.

Freedom of expression

Authorities continued to use repressive laws to silence critical voices both on- and offline. According to the government’s own figures, police conducted 692 investigations between January 2020 and June 2022 under the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA), resulting in 87 prosecutions including of artists, performers and political activists. There were reports of additional investigations and arrests under the CMA in the months that followed. The Sedition Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the Film Censorship Act were also used to restrict freedom of expression.

In February, police detained activist Fahmi Reza for two days in connection with an artwork on his Twitter account satirizing a government minister.1 In July, police and religious authorities charged two individuals with offences under the CMA and other laws for a comedy performance in which they allegedly insulted Islam. Local authorities ordered the closure of the comedy club. In October, police briefly detained political activist Jay Jay Denis over a tweet alleging misconduct by a political leader.

Freedom of assembly

Although most Covid-19 control laws that had been used to prevent and disperse protests were repealed, authorities continued to block peaceful demonstrations and investigate and charge protest organizers with criminal offences.

In April, police questioned seven people in connection with their participation in peaceful vigils calling for clemency for Malaysian national Nagaenthran Dharmalingam prior to his execution in Singapore.2

In June, police stopped several hundred lawyers from the Bar Council from marching to parliament to protest against government interference in the judiciary. Three leaders of the Bar Council were subsequently investigated under the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA). In August, police charged four activists under the PAA for their role in organizing anti-government protests in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. They faced fines of up to MYR 10,000 (approximately USD 2,290) if convicted.

Refugees’ and migrants’ rights

The harsh treatment of refugees and asylum seekers continued and allegations of human rights violations in immigration detention facilities persisted. Six people died in April during a breakout by Rohingya refugees from a temporary immigration detention centre in Sungai Bakap, Penang, where they were indefinitely detained; a 14-year-old girl died days later from her injuries. Despite calls on the government to investigate the incident, it remained unclear who was responsible for the deaths.3

In June, a migrants’ rights organization reported that 149 Indonesian nationals died between January 2021 and June 2022 in immigration detention centres in Sabah state as a result of ill-treatment and poor conditions. The government denied the allegations and took no action to investigate them.

Authorities forcibly deported thousands of people including asylum seekers to Myanmar despite an international outcry in light of ongoing and serious human rights violations there.4 In October, a government proposal to take over the management of asylum seekers and refugees from UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, raised concerns about their future treatment.

Torture and other ill-treatment

At least 21 people died in police custody during the year.

In July, parliament passed the Independent Police Conduct Commission bill establishing a police oversight body. However, it lacked the independence and investigative powers needed to effectively investigate police misconduct including in relation to custodial deaths. Concerns included provisions permitting the appointment of police officers to the oversight commission and requirements of prior notification for visits to police stations and other police facilities.5 Also in July, parliament approved an extension to the pretrial detention clause of the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 that permits detention without access to courts and/or lawyers for up to 28 days.6

LGBTI people’s rights

LGBTI people continued to face systemic persecution and discrimination in both law and practice. Authorities censored cultural content deemed to have “LGBT elements”, including in films, resulting in distributors pulling censored films from local cinemas. In October, police and religious authorities raided a Halloween party in Kuala Lumpur and detained 20 people overnight, including trans people and performers in drag, for violating Islamic laws against cross-dressing. Amendments to Sharia law in Terengganu state were adopted in December that criminalized attempted liwat, or sodomy, and “women posing as men”. Sodomy remained a crime under the national penal code.

Indigenous peoples’ rights

In July, around 200 Indigenous people in Perak state held a protest at the state legislative assembly against the government’s failure to protect their customary land from logging. In October, authorities forcibly relocated over 300 members of an Indigenous community in Nenggiri, Kelantan state, whose land had been requisitioned for the construction of a dam, despite their opposition to the project.

Death penalty

In October, the government tabled legislative amendments in parliament to abolish the mandatory death penalty for drug-related offences and 10 other offences but proposed alternative cruel and inhuman punishments such as flogging. The bills did not progress because of elections.7 A moratorium on executions remained in place.

Failure to tackle climate crisis

The government’s July 2021 intended NDC, which committed to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels and was criticized by some groups for being unambitious, remained in place.

In response to worsening flooding and resulting evacuations of local communities including in Klang Valley and Kuala Langat districts, the government announced in June that it would develop a national adaptation plan to set out strategies for responding to the impacts of climate change. The plan had not been finalized by year’s end.

  1. Malaysia: Fahmi Reza charged: Laws must not be used to stifle peaceful dissent”, 10 February
  2. Malaysia: Drop investigations into Nagaenthran vigils”, 28 April
  3. Malaysia: Deaths of six detainees at Sungai Bakap”, 21 April
  4. “Malaysia: Halt forced deportation of people from Myanmar and ensure access to asylum”, 21 October
  5. Malaysia: CSO joint statement: Reject the Independent Police Conduct Commission”, 22 March
  6. Malaysia: Media quote IPCC and SOSMA”, 25 July
  7. Malaysia: Move to abolish mandatory death penalty is ‘welcome step’ in right direction”, 10 June