A group of legislators in the Southeast Asian region expressed alarm over the reported “surge in harassment” of opposition lawmakers and activists in Malaysia in recent weeks.
“Peacefully demonstrating and voicing opinions should never be a crime,” said Carlos Zarate, a Filipino member of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights.
The legislator made the statement after at least six members of parliament and four state-level legislators in Malaysia were called in for questioning by authorities in the past week.
“Basic freedoms have come increasingly under attack since Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government came to power last year,” said Zarate.
The member of the Philippine Congress claimed that the latest wave of investigations and harassment “clearly aims to silence political opponents and all forms of dissent.”
On May 22, MP Syed Saddiq was questioned by police in relation to a video he posted on social media related to police brutality and to demand justice for an activist who died on April 18 after being held in police custody.
Saddiq is reportedly being investigated under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code for allegedly making statements that cause fear or alarm to the public, and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act, for alleged improper use of network facilities.
The authorities have seized his phone, and have access to his Instagram and TikTok accounts.
On May 20, MP Mukhriz Mahathir, two state assembly representatives, and five other political party members and rights activists, were interrogated for allegedly gathering without notice in relation to a peaceful sit-in protest on April 30.
The demonstration was held to call for, among other things, the reopening of parliament, which was suspended in January after a state of emergency was declared amid a rise of COVID-19 cases.
The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights said the emergency has since been used to introduce regulations that further threaten fundamental freedoms, including a ”fake news” ordinance that police have used to investigate at least 12 people accused of spreading false information related to COVID-19.
In early May, eight individuals, including MP Fahmi Fadzil, and seven civil society and political party members, were questioned over an April 24 solidarity gathering on the arrest of political artist Fahmi Reza.
Later in the same month, at least 11 people were summoned for questioning in relation to a peaceful gathering on March 27 that protested the Election Commission’s delay in implementing the 18-year voting age.
Last month, Reporters Without Borders downgraded Malaysia to 119, from 101 a year earlier, in its annual world press freedom index, recording the worst deterioration among 180 countries.
The sharp decline is linked to last year’s change in government, and has seen authorities use repressive laws to harass journalists and restrict space for critical reporting.