Sunday, December 12, 2004

Human Rights In Malaysia

When Abdullah Badawi replaced the long-serving Mahathir Mohamad as Malaysia's prime minister last year there were high hopes for an opening up of the country's politics. After all Abdullah had promised to re-establish an independent judiciary, open a dialogue with civil society groups and accept criticism of his government. But as the annual report of the leading human rights group, Suaram, makes clear the situation in Malaysia has hardly improved. While Suaram welcomed the release from jail of the former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, it sees few other signs of hope.

Among the report's key findings are evidence of widespread irregularities, bans on opposition gatherings and tight control of the media by the government during this year's general election. But the darkest stain on Malaysia's human rights records continues to be the notorious Internal Security Act (ISA). This legacy of British colonial rule has long been the lynchpin of the state's coercive apparatus. It allows for detention without trial or charge. And it has been used unsparingly against a succession of "enemies of the state" for the last four decades. Some 97 people are believed to be detained at this moment under the ISA. And on Wednesday, it was reported that
a dozen of the detainees were injured during a search of their quarters at the high security Kamunting detention centre in northern Malaysia.

Malaysia is not often portrayed as a politically repressive society in the so-called international community - beyond the occasional condemnation of Anwar's detention or criticism of Mahathir's bilious outbursts. Indeed, Malaysia is more usually represented as an exemplar of a multicultural society that combines a successful project of Islamic modernisation with racial harmony. The truth is much less sanguine. And there is a growing movement of Malaysians (and of international solidarity) that is prepared not only to say so but to campaign actively to break the silence.

At the moment Suaram is spearheading four major campaigns:
  • Abolish ISA Movement: which seeks to free all detainess, stop torture, and eventually abolish the ISA itself
  • Campaign on Rights of Refugees in Malaysia: which advocates for greater protection for refugees in Malaysia, intervenes in crisis situations and provides support and advice
  • Campaign Against Police Brutality: which seeks the accountability and reform of the police force
  • Freedom of Speech and Expression Campaign: which advocate for greater freedom of speech and expression, and freedom of information laws
Malaysian citizens are not quiescent bystanders in the struggle against injustice and oppression. They are organising. And they deserve your support.


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