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Biweekly Human Rights Roundup

Human Rights Round Up #29: 1st March 2021 – 15th March 2021

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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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Campaign 2019/2020

[#StayAtHome: Rights of migrants and refugees – equal before the law?]

[#StayAtHome: Rights of migrants and refugees – equal before the law?]

While many Malaysians are struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic, migrant workers and refugees have had the additional burden of having their rights violated.

Join us for a discussion with Mr Dobby Chew from Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) and Mr Jerald Joseph from SUHAKAM (Human Rights Commission of Malaysia) as we address the impact of the pandemic on migrant workers and refugees, the obstacles faced in protecting their labour rights and right to access healthcare services, the reforms we can push for, and the action we can take to support the rights of migrant workers and refugees.

Details of the event are as follows:
Date: Thursday, 30 July 2020
Time: 9 p.m. MYT /2 p.m. UKT
Platform: Zoom/FB Live

Register now at https://www.kpum.org/stayathome.

Guest Speakers

Highlights from the #StayAtHome Webinar with Mr Jerald Joseph and Mr Dobby Chew

We thank both speakers for spending their Thursday evening to share about their knowledge and insight on the rights of migrants and refugees in Malaysia.

Link to the webinar is available here.

Categories
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.