Malaysia’s new administration is increasingly using abusive laws to investigate and prosecute speech critical of the government, a leading rights group has said.
New York-headquartered Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that since the Perikatan Nasional coalition took over the federal government in early March, the authorities have sharply heightened investigations of individuals under broadly worded laws that violate the right to freedom of expression.
“Like flicking a light switch, Malaysian authorities have returned to rights-abusing practices of the past, calling journalists, activists, and opposition figures into police stations to be questioned about their writing and social media posts,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“The government should stop trying to return to the bad old days and revise the laws to meet international standards,” he said.
Among those investigated in recent months include journalist Tashny Sukumaran, who faced police questioning after she reported on immigration raids in an area under an enhanced movement control order due to the presence of COVID-19.
On May 20, the police also summoned an opposition member of parliament, Xavier Jayakumar, for questioning after he criticized the government’s decision to limit the recent sitting of Parliament to a speech by the king.
HRW likewise highlighted how, on May 8, prosecutors charged a businessman over social media comments criticizing the government for prosecuting individuals who violated the movement restrictions put in place due to COVID-19.
All of the laws cited in these investigations are overly broad and subject to abuse, and all have been used by prior administrations against critical voices, HRW said.
“Malaysians should be able to criticize their government and its policies without fear of facing police questioning and possible criminal charges,” Robertson said.
“Instead of dusting off abusive laws for use against its critics, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s administration should amend or repeal those laws to protect everyone’s freedom of speech in Malaysia.”