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Biweekly Human Rights Roundup

Human Rights Round-up 19 (24/07/2020)

1. NO INQUEST FOR 80 OUT OF 110 LOCKUP DEATHS

Under s.334 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), EDICT founder M. Visvanathan said an inquest is mandatory for deaths that occurred in a police lockup, prison or mental asylum.

However, he pointed out that there is no such provision for deaths that occur in immigration detention centres. Without a mandatory provision to investigate deaths in immigration detention centres, an inquest will only be conducted if there is a public outcry and the AG’s chambers take action. He further said even with the existing mandatory provision for inquest, out of the 110 lockup deaths from 2010 to 2016, 80 were not investigated.

2. ACTIVISTS SUMMONED FOR HONOURING THOSE WHO DIED IN CUSTODY

On 16 July 2020, several activists gathered to honour and remember those who died in police custody. Some were later summoned by the police to give statements regarding the gathering

According to EDICT, since 2009,176 persons have died in police lockups, 550 persons have died in immigration detention centres and 2,838 persons have died in prisons.

Despite initially obtaining permission to organise the gathering from the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL), the police revoked the permission. The police claimed that the notice submitted was incomplete, and, thus, failed to comply with the Peaceful Assembly Act, as there had been no consent notice from DBKL, who the police have claimed to be the ‘custodian’ of the area for the event. However, EDICT contended that, although DBKL is the owner of the said area, “custodian” does not mean “owner.” EDICT asserted that no such notice was required from DBKL, but rather from other authorities.

3. WORK PERMIT OF MIGRANT FEATURED IN AL JAZEERA DOCUMENTARY REVOKED 

Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) has expressed grave concern over the revocation of the work permit of the Bangladeshi man interviewed in Al Jazeera’s documentary. The documentary has attracted widespread attacks from the government and members of the public since it was posted on 3rd July 2020.

S.9(1)(c) of the Immigration Act 1959/63 only allows the Director General of Immigration to cancel a permit if it is prejudicial to public order, public security, public health or morality in Malaysia. LFL said it is inconceivable that the mere action of highlighting his plight to the media would fall under any of the categories listed under s.9(1)(c)

Al Jazeera is also being probed for various offences, including sedition, defamation and improper use of network facilities. On 10 July 2020, at least six Al Jazeera staff were summoned to Bukit Aman to facilitate investigations.

4. AL JAZEERA’S ACCREDITATION AND LICENCE QUESTIONED

The National Film Development Corporation (Finas) had investigated Al Jazeera regarding the production of the documentary titled Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown and found that the company does not hold the necessary licence to film or air its documentary.

S.22(1) Perbadanan Kemajuan Filem Nasional Malaysia Act 1981 (Amendment 2013) states that no person shall engage in any activities of production, distribution or exhibition of films or any combination of these activities without a licence authorising the person to carry out such activities.

S.25 of the same Act provides for punishment upon conviction — a fine not exceeding RM 50,000 or an imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or both. Al Jazeera has since dismissed the claim, saying that, as per Finas’ own definition, its 101 East weekly current affairs show does not fall into the category of film requiring a licence.

5. ALL FILMING, EVEN ON SOCIAL MEDIA, REQUIRES LICENCE 

On 23 July 2020, the Communications and Multimedia (MCMC) Minister Saiffudin announced that, under s.22 of the National Film Development Corporation (Finas) Act 1981, all film production whether from media outlets or personal media on traditional platforms or even social media require a licence. This was made in reply to a question by YB Wong Shu Qi on the exact definition of film, and whether the Act would affect people who use social media platforms such as Instagram TV or TikTok.

Saifuddin interpreted “film” under s.2 of the Finas Act 1981 broadly such that film includes feature films, short films, trailers, advertising “filmlets” and any recording on material of any kind, including videotapes and video discs of moving images, accompanied or unaccompanied by sound, and documentaries, for the viewing of the public.

The government has responded to criticisms of these statements by iterating that it will not use the Finas Act 1981 to restrict personal freedom on social media, and that they are aware that the Act is in need of improvement.

6. SOSMA AND SEDITION ACT TO BE IMPROVED

In a written Parliamentary reply, Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin said SOSMA remains “relevant” for public safety and national security. He further said the government is committed to improving security laws, including SOSMA and the Sedition Act, adding that further studies were needed for the laws.

This marks a departure from the stance taken by the former Pakatan Harapan government, which was to revoke the Sedition Act and to abolish draconian provisions in SOSMA.

In a separate Parliamentary reply to a question on the target of SOSMA, Hamzah listed those who committed four specific offences:

  1. Causing organised violence against people or property, or causing a substantial number of citizens to fear violence;
  2. Inciting disloyalty towards the YDP Agong;
  3. Threatening public order in the country;
  4. Procure the alternation, otherwise than by lawful means, of anything by law established.

7. CALLS TO REPLACE OFFICIAL SECRETS ACT WITH RIGHT TO INFORMATION BILL 

In light of the IGP’s remarks that police officers who reveal confidential investigation reports will be liable under the Official Secrets Act 1972 (OSA), the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) called for the OSA to be replaced with a new Right To Information (RTI) legislation.

CIJ states that the present OSA hinders our RTI as it allows any document to be classified as secret, with no requirement for harm or any relation to national security, international relations or defense. CIJ held that exceptions to the RTI should be narrowly defined and subject to strict “harm” and “public interest” tests to justify why said information should be withheld. 

While acknowledging the importance of deterring private information from being arbitrarily revealed and subject to abuse, CIJ has emphasised that the State should balance, on the one hand, freedom of expression and RTI, with, on the other, the need to protect privacy and data. CIJ has called for this balance to be struck by using other existing laws, instead of applying the “fundamentally-flawed” OSA.

8. SPIKE IN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN SELANGOR

In the Selangor State Legislative Assembly, State Health, Welfare, Women and Family Empowerment Committee chairman Dr Siti Mariah reported 90 domestic violence cases were recorded during the MCO in March and April 2020.

The number of calls received by the special assistance lines for domestic violence, set up by the Committee in collaboration with the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), also show a spike: 

  • January 2020 – 266 calls received
  • February 2020 – 250 calls received
  • March 2020 – 361 calls received
  • April 2020 – 898 calls received

Dr Siti Mariah urged women in the state to know their rights and to seek help if they were abused by their spouses.

9. HIGH COURT OVERTURNS SENTENCE TO CANE ROHINGYA MEN FOR ARRIVING IN MALAYSIA

On 22 July 2020, the High Court overturned the magistrates’ court’s decision to sentence 27 Rohingya men to be caned under s.6 of Immigration Act 1959/63. S.6 provides anyone who enters the country without permission can face a fine of up to RM10,000, jail for up to five years, and six strokes of a cane.

The appeals court said their refugee status affords them international protection from persecution, and the judge reiterated the international law principle of non-refoulement. The judge also said the men were not habitual offenders, and had not committed any acts of violence, and as such, it was “inhumane” to impose a sentence of caning.

Amnesty welcomes the decision, further calling for the release of other Rohingya refugees who had been jailed for attempting to escape persecution in Myanmar.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

1. VARIOUS COMPANIES ALLEGEDLY COMPLICIT IN UYGHUR FORCED LABOUR

A coalition of human rights groups have called for companies to end the use of forced labour of the Uyghur population in China. The companies allegedly complicit in the use of such labour range from firms producing PPE masks, to Apple, and ‘virtually [the] entire fashion industry.

Companies were alleged to have sourced materials from Xinjiang, the western region in China home to the largely Muslim ethnic minority Uyghur population. These reports of forced labour were published amidst earlier reports of state-sponsored human rights abuses against the Uyghurs by the Chinese government, such as the use of mass detention and forced sterilisation.

The coalition has called for companies to cut ties with suppliers complicit in Uyghur forced labour, The coalition has called for companies to cut ties with suppliers complicit in Uyghur forced labour, and to ensure that each level of their supply chain is free from such human rights abuses.

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