Amnesty International – Report 2006
Head of state: Raja Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin
Head of government: Abdullah Ahmad Badawi
Death penalty: retentionist
International Criminal Court: not signed
UN Women’s Convention: ratified with reservations
Optional Protocol to UN Women’s Convention: not signed
Overview – Covering events from January – December 2005
Police reform : Detention without trial under the ISA and Emergency Ordinance : Restrictive laws : Migrant workers, refugees and asylum-seekers : Freedom of religion: growing intolerance : Death penalty and corporal punishment : AI country visits
The government pledged to implement wide-ranging recommendations for police reform. At least 71 suspected Islamist activists remained detained without charge or trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA). Restrictive laws curtailed freedom of expression, association and assembly. Many people were imprisoned and caned after unfair trials for immigration offences, and some of those held pending deportation were ill-treated and held in poor conditions. At least 58 people were arrested for alleged religious “deviancy”. Death sentences were imposed. Hundreds of convicted prisoners, mostly undocumented migrant workers, were caned.
In May the independent Royal Commission of Inquiry examining the conduct and management of the police released its report. Acknowledging reports of corruption and human rights violations by police, the Commission called for legislative, procedural and disciplinary reform. Recommendations included the establishment of an independent police complaints commission with investigatory powers, stronger custodial safeguards and increased resources and training.
The government agreed in principle to implement all 125 recommendations, but the full scope and timing of the implementation process remained unclear at the end of 2005.
- In November, three women of Chinese nationality complained of being physically assaulted and stripped while in police detention.
- In December, an inquiry was established after circulation of a video clip showing a naked Malay woman detainee being required by police to perform squats while holding her ears.
The ISA continued to allow for detention without trial for up to two years, renewable indefinitely, of anyone considered by the authorities to be a potential threat to national security or public order.
ISA detainees were at risk of physical intimidation, humiliation and intense psychological pressure, at times amounting to torture, while held incommunicado during an initial police investigation period of up to 60 days. Complaints of abuse by ISA detainees were not effectively investigated.
- In a rare case, the High Court heard a civil suit lodged by Abdul Malek Hussin against police for allegedly torturing him in ISA detention in 1998.
At least 71 alleged Islamist activists reportedly remained in detention under the ISA at the end of 2005. They included 65 detainees accused of association with al-Qa’ida and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), as well as three alleged members of the Malaysia Mujahidin Group (Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia, KMM). At least 38 men were also in ISA detention for alleged passport forgery or other offences.
In March, the National Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) urged the government to review the cases of all ISA detainees, calling for them to be tried or released.
- In March, five students detained in 2003 following their arrest in Pakistan on suspicion of links to al-Qa’ida and JI were released. They remained subjected to restriction orders curtailing their freedom of movement.
- In October, three alleged KMM supporters were released. Two remained under restriction orders. The three were among six detainees arrested in 2001 who had detention orders extended in September.
In September opposition parties and civil society groups called for the abolition of the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime Ordinance) Ordinance, which allows for detention without trial of those believed by police to be “hardened” criminals.
At least 700 suspected criminals, including 105 minors aged between 14 and 21, were reportedly detained under two-year renewable detention orders at the Sempang Renggam detention centre. They were held under the Emergency Ordinance or the Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Measures) Act, which also allows for detention without trial.
Restrictive laws continued to be used to impose unjustified curbs on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly of opposition figures, journalists, students and other members of civil society.
- In April, a magistrate’s court acquitted seven students charged in 2001 with illegal assembly under the Police Act for staging a peaceful protest against the ISA. The prosecution lodged an appeal. Under the Universities and University Colleges Act (UCCA) the students had been suspended from university since 2001.
- In October, at least 10 students were charged under UCCA disciplinary rules for taking part in peaceful protests against disputed campus elections. In November, riot police were called to disperse a protest outside Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) against the disciplinary actions.
In March the authorities launched mass arrest and deportation operations against people suspected of being undocumented migrant workers. There were periodic reports of abuses and the authorities failed to provide adequate medical care, food and clean water in some detention centres and police cells. In May the operations were scaled back.
Hundreds of migrant workers prosecuted under the Immigration Act were imprisoned and caned. Failure to ensure fair trial standards led to repeated miscarriages of justice.
- In March, Mangal Bahadur Gurung, a Nepali migrant worker, was convicted, imprisoned and whipped under the Immigration Act. In July the courts, given evidence of a valid work permit, set aside his conviction and ordered his immediate release.
The authorities failed to distinguish consistently between people seeking asylum (mostly from Myanmar and Indonesia) and undocumented migrant workers. Asylum-seekers and refugees were therefore at risk of arrest, detention and forcible return.
In July the authorities announced that recognized refugees would be permitted to work, but implementation of this policy remained slow.
- In June, 68 Burmese refugees and asylum-seekers were arrested after holding a peaceful pro-democracy protest outside the Myanmar embassy. Most were charged with illegal assembly and immigration offences.
While Islam is the official religion of multi-ethnic Malaysia, the religious freedom of non-Malay ethnic groups is constitutionally protected. Sharia (Islamic law), which applies to ethnic Malays who by definition must be Muslim, imposes criminal sanctions on those who seek to follow other faiths (apostasy), and on those found to hold heretical beliefs that “deviate” from Sunni Islam. In June the authorities labelled 22 religious sects as “deviant”.
In July a mob of unidentified men set fire to the commune of the Sky Kingdom religious sect in Terrenganu state, which calls for a peaceful synthesis of all faiths. Following the attack, 58 sect members, including women and children, were detained. Forty-five people were subsequently charged with offences under Sharia law, including practising “deviant” Islamic beliefs. There were no prosecutions of those responsible for the attack.
- In July Kamariah Ali and Daud Mamat, both Malay members of the Sky Kingdom religious sect arrested after the attack on their commune, filed a petition to test constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion. Charged with apostasy under Sharia law, they were released on bail before their petition was heard.
Death sentences were imposed, mostly for drug trafficking offences. No executions were reported.
Caning, a cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment, was carried out throughout 2005 as an additional punishment to imprisonment. Hundreds of people found guilty of breaches of the Immigration Act were among those caned.
AI delegates visited Malaysia in April and November.
Malaysia: Towards human rights-based policing
(AI Index: ASA 28/001/2005)
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