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Biweekly Human Rights Roundup

Human Rights Round Up #26

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Biweekly Human Rights Roundup

Human Rights Round-Up 20 (07/08/2020)

1. AL JAZEERA, ASTRO, UNIFI TV RAIDED OVER MIGRANT DOCUMENTARY

The police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) have raided Al Jazeera and seized two computers. Astro and Unifi TV were also raided; it is believed the two had broadcast Al Jazeera’s documentary.

On 3 July 2020, Al Jazeera aired Locked Up In Malaysia’s Lockdown, which focused on the plight of undocumented migrants detained during raids in areas under tight coronavirus lockdowns. It sparked an online backlash, while the Malaysian government decried the report as inaccurate, misleading and unfair.Amnesty International Malaysia (AIM) commented, “The government’s crackdown on migrants and refugees, as well as those who speak up in their defense, is clearly meant to silence and intimidate and should be condemned.

2. BANGLADESHI IN AL JAZEERA DOCUMENTARY TO BE DEPORTED ON MERDEKA DAY

Md Rayhan Kabir, the Bangladeshi national who was arrested on 24 July 2020 after appearing on an Al Jazeera documentary, will be deported back to his home country on Merdeka Day, pending the completion of the Attorney General’s review into the police’s investigation papers.

The Director-General of the Immigration Department stated that Mr Kabir’s visitor pass has been terminated and that he will be permanently blacklisted from entering Malaysia. This follows from the recent revocation of Mr Kabir’s work permit.Mr Kabir had appeared in the Al Jazeera documentary, Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown, where he accused the authorities of racism against undocumented migrants. Currently, the police are investigating Al Jazeera under the Sedition Act 1948 and other statutory provisions.

3. SUHAKAM CALLS FOR RELEASE OF FINDINGS ON WANG KELIAN TRAGEDY

On World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on July 30, SUHAKAM urged the government to release the report and findings of the Royal Commission Inquiry (RCI) into the Wang Kelian tragedy, which involved human trafficking syndicates and subsequent obstruction of justice by enforcement authorities.

SUHAKAM reminded all that despite its illegality worldwide, human trafficking remains rampant because it is a lucrative trade; and pointed out Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007 is the specific legislation to address human trafficking in Malaysia. 

SUHAKAM urged the government to focus on:

i. Identifying weaknesses (thereby strengthening) the Malaysian border enforcement infrastructure, 

ii. Intensifying efforts to prosecute traffickers and those abetting; 

iii. Providing all forms of necessary assistance including legal aid, humanitarian supplies, and access to basic services to victims.

4. JAKIM CONDEMNED FOR LODGING POLICE REPORT OVER LGBTQ CONVERSION THERAPY TWEETS 

Local advocacy groups have condemned the Malaysian Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM) for reporting a local minority rights activist to the police over her tweets about its methods to “heal” the LGBTQ community.

The groups said JAKIM’s knee-jerk reaction to lodge a police report is a disproportionate response. “It sends a message… that we are not allowed to question governmental policies and programmes and aims to limit our freedom of expression and our right to information.”
The groups also said that the tweets were accurate and backed by citations accessible online that included published research and Parliament’s Hansard. Moreover, the tweet never implied participants of such programmes were forced attendees, albeit “we do… need a deeper understanding of what is meant by ‘voluntary participation’.

5. CITIZENSHIP CASE REQUIRES EVIDENCE ON BIOLOGICAL PARENTS’ NATIONALITY

In a High Court case, lawyer Raymond Mah argued that those born in Malaysia but had not become citizens of any other country within a year of their birth would be a Malaysian citizen under s.1(e) and s.2(3) of the Federal Constitution’s Second Schedule

Mah further argued that his client should not bear the burden to  approach 100 other countries to verify her nationality thereby proving her biological parents’ identity. He further argued that s.1(e) only involves jus soli (the right to citizenship by place of birth), not jus sanguini (right to citizenship by the parents’ nationality).


However, the opposing counsel argued s.1(e) requires proof for both jus soli and jus sanguini, hence the need to prove parents and lineage.

6. THREE FAMILY MEMBERS DETAINED FOR SUSPICION OF ABUSING INDONESIAN MAID

The police have detained three family members suspected of abusing their Indonesian maid.

“The victim was reportedly not paid her wages during the period she worked for her employer besides the maid was locked up in the house and forced to work every day. Her earlobes were also almost torn,” Perak Criminal Investigation Department (CID) chief SAC Anuar Othman said.

He also said the suspects were remanded until Thursday and the maid was sent to a shelter pending further investigation.

The case is being investigated under s. 12 Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007 (ATIPSOM).

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

7. STUDENTS ARRESTED UNDER HONG KONG SECURITY LAW

In the first police operation to enforce Hong Kong’s new national security law, four students in Hong Kong, aged between 16 and 21, have been arrested on suspicion of “inciting secession”.

The students were former members of or had links to Studentlocalism, a pro-independence youth group. It was disbanded in June before the security law came into force.

Prominent rights activist Joshua Wong said the former leader of the group, Mr Chung, had been followed by police for several days. Joshua also said Mr Chung had been arrested for writing a Facebook post on “China’s nationalism” and alleged that the detainees’ phones had been hacked shortly after their arrest

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Biweekly Human Rights Roundup

Human Rights Round-up 17 (12/06/2020)

  1. COAC: THE LOGGERS ARE BACK

#OrangAsli

Since the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) on 10 June 2020, logging activities in at least two Orang Asli areas have resumed

In Kampung Sungai Papan, Kedah, loggers have started preparing the road to their concession area. This was the same site where the Temiars set up a blockade a year ago. Several of them were arrested and detained. The Menteri Besar called for a halt of the logging in August 2019, but it only lasted temporarily. On the Lojing-Gua Musang road, Kelantan, bulldozers were also coming in to log, with the purpose of planting musang king durians.

2. SPECIAL STIMULUS PACKAGE FOR THE ORANG ASLI 

#OrangAsli

Senator Manolan Mohamad suggested that the government should implement an economic stimulus package tailored for the Orang Asli (OA), many of whom have been severely affected by the pandemic. 

He cited the US and Canada as countries which have issued special economic packages for their indigenous peoples. For instance, the Canadian government’s targeted economic stimulus package for indigenous businesses has been a lifeline for many.

Senator Manolan further called for the government to develop the long-neglected infrastructure in OA villages, and to promote cooperation between Felcra, Risda, and Jakoa to advance the OA’s economic wellbeing.

3. RESTRICTION OF FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION ONGOING

#FreedomofSpeech #FreedomofExpression

Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and 39 CSOs have issued a joint statement strongly condemning the use of repressive laws – such as s.233 CMA, s.504 and s.505 Penal Code, the Sedition Act 1948, and the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 – to silent dissent and opposing views. 

Some examples over the past two weeks:

i. The AG filed an application to cite Malaysiakini for contempt over readers’ comments;

ii. Hannah Yeoh for questioning the fate of the National Strategic Plan to Address the Causes of Underage Marriage under her successor Siti Zailah on Twitter;

iii. Syed Saddiq for expressing disappointment with PM Muhyiddin Yassin for working with “kleptocrats” in an interview with Al Jazeera; and

iv. Siti Kasim for suggesting a ban on tahfiz schools in response to PAS calling for the suspension of the production and sale of alcoholic beverages.

Check out CIJ’s Facebook for a non-exhaustive list of cases restricting free speech, all of which have occurred since the change of government in March this year.

4. WAO: ANTI-STALKING LAWS NEEDED URGENTLY

Women’s Aid Organization (WAO) urged for anti-stalking laws to be passed in the next Parliament session to address the rise in gender-based cyberviolence during COVID-19 pandemic.

According to UN Women, the global  increase in internet usage by 50% – 70% during the pandemic has coincided with a rise of cyberviolence, whether in the form of unwanted communications, sex trolling, threats of violence, or sexual images sent or distributed without consent. Recipients of this form of violence are often women.

The anti-stalking law would address both offline and online stalking, including various forms of gender-based cyberviolence like harassment, spying, and doxing. Survivors of cyberviolence would have a path to protection and redress.

5. COMPLAINTS OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN LEGAL WORK PLACE

The Malaysian Bar is deeply concerned over complaints of sexual harassment in the legal workplace, recognising the very nature of it would mean there may be more cases than are made known.

Malaysian Bar president Salim Bashir affirmed, despite the existing provisions in the Employment Act 1955 and the Penal Code, there is a lot more that can be done. For instance, to include sexual harassment in section 509 of the Penal Code, and as a defined ‘misconduct’ in the Legal Profession Bill.

The latter move would mean that lawyers would also face disciplinary action for allegations of misconduct or sexual harassment. They could be liable to punishments, including fines or be struck off the roll.

6. RISING CONCERNS OVER DEATHS IN CUSTODY

#DeathinCustody #PolicePowers

Death in police custody: EDICT have raised concerns over the Jinjang police’s failure to properly identify an individual who had died in their custody on 31st May 2020. The police initially announced that the deceased’s name was Dhan Bahadur, however the Nepal embassy told the FMT that Bahadur was still alive in Nepal after verification. EDICT stated there were many suspicious issues during the investigation of the deceased whose identity is currently unknown. 

Death in immigration custody: On 12th June 2020 an Indian tourist, Zeawdeen Kadar Masdan, died in the Immigration Department’s detention after contracting covid-19. SUHAKAM is currently investigating the case, and have questioned the Immigration Department’s decision to arrest the victim for an expired visa when he was unable to extend it during the lockdown.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

1. US SUPREME COURT BACKS LGBT WORKERS’ PROTECTION

In a 6-3 decision, the US Supreme Court ruled that employers who fire workers for being gay or transgender are breaking the country’s civil rights law.

Lawyers for the employers had argued that the authors of the 1964 Civil Rights Act had not intended it to apply to cases involving sexual orientation and gender identity. The Trump administration sided with that argument.

However, the Court said the federal law, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, should be understood to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

2. US SANCTIONS ICC OVER AFGHAN WAR CRIMES INVESTIGATION

President Donald Trump signed an executive order that blocks the assets of International Criminal Court (ICC) employees. This order was signed after the ICC began investigating whether US forces had committed war crimes in Afghanistan.

The ICC stated that these sanctions are an “unacceptable attempt to interfere with the rule of law”, and that “[a]n attack on the ICC also represents an attack against the interests of victims of atrocity crimes, for many of whom the Court represents the last hope for justice”.

The war crimes investigation followed a 2016 ICC report which found that there was reasonable basis to believe that US forces had committed acts of torture at secret detention sites operated by the CIA.

3. KOSOVO PRESIDENT ACCUSED OF WAR CRIMES

The Special Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) issued a statement alleging that Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and others “are criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders”, torture, and enforced disappearences.

This statement follows the SPO’s decision on 24th April 2020 to file a 10-count indictment which allegedly involves hundreds of victims of Kosovo Albanian, Serb, Roma, and other ethnicities, as well as political opponents. Although it is only an accusation, the indictment is “the result of a length investigation and reflects the SPO’s determination that it can prove all of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt”.

Mr Thaci has denied any wrongdoing. A pre-trial judge has six months to decide if the court will issue charges.

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General Writings

Part II – Challenging The Status Quo That Marginalizes The Queers

Pelangi Facebook Page

If you haven’t read part I of this series, check it out here!

Challenging anti-LGBT laws

Fortunately, discriminatory laws in Malaysia have not gone unchallenged. Apart from the ‘anti-sexual diversity law’ that has been disputed recently, ‘anti-gender diversity law’ has also been challenged before.

A series of violent and arbitrary arrests have prompted activists and lawyers to take the matter to court. In 2014, a landmark ruling in the Court of Appeal declared Section 66 of the Negeri Sembilan Syariah Enactment unconstitutional as it was inconsistent with Articles 5, 8, 9 and 10 of the Federal Constitution. In Muhamad Juzaili bin Mohd Khamis & Ors v State Government of Negeri Sembilan & Ors [2015] 3 MLJ 5013 [70], the court found that “[a] person’s dress, attire or articles of clothing are a form of expression, which in our view, is guaranteed under Article 10(1)(a)”.

It would have had a profound impact on all transgender people in the country, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Opposing views often purport that all religions disapprove transgender people. If there is one change in the status quo – that the state no longer criminalizes people, even if it is just people professing that one specific religion, for “cross dressing” – it may cultivate spaces for education about gender diversity; and ultimately, the acceptance (not just tolerance) of transgender and gender nonconforming people in the country. 

That is, if there is no severe backlash from society. It would be naive to think that if these laws were abolished, everything would be fine and dandy. One could imagine parties who are angry with the change would be riled up to take matters in their own hands. Will the victims be protected, or will the perpetrators be free to crusade against transgender people? Who will protect us then? Still, decriminalizing transgender people would be an applaudable step. 

Sadly, before we can rejoice, the commendable decision was overruled by the Federal Court on grounds of legal technicalities. It was held that the Court of Appeal had no jurisdiction to declare the law unconstitutional; and their judicial review at the High Court was premature as there was no decision by the public authority.

Counsel representing the Negeri Sembilan government submitted that applicants should have filed their action under Article 4 of the Federal Constitution as they were challenging the constitutionality of the Syariah enactment. Under Article 4, applicants must first obtain leave from a Federal Court judge to pursue their petition.

This is exactly what the man who pleaded not guilty in the Syariah court is doing – the leave for the petition was granted on 14 May 2020. One may deduce that judges are typically conservative, but from the previous transgender case, it seems that the Federal Court only overturned the decision on legal technicalities, not so much on the merits of the case. 

Although there will be different grounds (the petition here is to challenge the state’s power to enact laws that are already dealt with by Federal law, which did not exist in the previous transgender case) and points of arguments (it being about sexual relations instead of gender), the LGBT community in Malaysia is waiting with fingers-crossed. 

Closing thoughts

Coming back to gender nonconformity – if gender nonconforming people used to be able to live freely in our tanah air, why are we being robbed of that liberty now? Not only that, why are we being persecuted? 

Many scholars and bodies would have the answer in hand – politicization of Islam. In the race among the elites to rule the country, LGBT people are often used as scapegoats. Ex Prime Minister Najib Razak (who has Bugis descent with five genders!) pledged to eradicate us as if we are destroyers of morality and a threat to the country and its official religion. 

The lines between politics and religion have blurred in this respect, though it can be inferred that  it has always been this way. The issue lies in the encroachment by the state to redefine the religion, especially post-1980. The effect is the strengthening of the powers of the state to dictate people’s lives to the point of uprooting long-existing cultures and phenomena, in addition to invading personal privacy. 

The rakyats, to a certain extent, or at least those who are not exposed to alternative sources, are influenced by stances taken by the state and its politicians. This trickles down to formulate attitudes of ordinary citizens against LGBT people in both public and private spheres, for example in the institutions of education, healthcare, and private family life. Even if the narrative is only for Muslims, non-Muslims would use it to fuel their prejudice. 

Perhaps you have seen several LGBT people doing fine in your circle, but that per se does not represent the reality. What about the youths and young adults who are dependent on their non-accepting families? What if they are exposed? This potentially endangers not only their mental health, but their lives and livelihood. What about the employment of underprivileged LGBT people, especially trans women? What about fair healthcare for LGBT people, especially the transgender community? 

Entering into a new decade, I dread to see leaders of our country throwing us under the bus again just to gain political mileage. As the Malay saying goes “Gajah sama gajah berjuang, pelanduk mati di tengah-tengah”.  We must stand stronger and claim the dignity and liberty we rightfully deserve. We belong in Malaysia, exactly as who we are.

Writer Profile

Elaine is a CLP student graduated from the University of Essex, UK. They have an interest in human rights and are often fascinated by the multiple facets of human rights. They believe that queer people deserve equal treatment and opportunities, which unfortunately are not granted in many countries including their own.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of ASASIkini.