freedom of expression
Internet shutdowns: the “new normal” in government repression?
By David Kode
The Ethiopian government is among at least 30 administrations that have disrupted or shut down domestic internet access in the past two years, in order to restrict communications related to dissent, citizen action or politically sensitive events.
Read on: Open Democracy
IRAN: ‘The severity of the crackdown only shows how scared the regime is of the protest movement’
CIVICUS speaks with Sohrab Razaghi, executive director of Volunteer Activists (VA), about the situation in Iran on the anniversary of the anti-regime protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of morality police.
VA is an independent civil society organisation (CSO) based in the Netherlands, whose primary aims are building capacity among activists and CSOs, facilitating information exchange among civil society activists, community peacebuilding and advocating for the expansion of democracy and human rights in Iran and more generally in the Middle East. VA is the successor of a pioneer Iranian CSO, the Iranian Civil Society, Training and Research Centre, founded in 2001 and based in Tehran until 2007.
What is the situation in Iran one year on from the start of the protest wave?
The situation in Iran is complex. While last year’s massive protests made people hope for change, the crackdown on the protests caused hopelessness. The authorities were mostly able to suppress the protests and regain control of the streets, forcing people back into their homes.
Moreover, while the ‘Women, Life, Freedom’ protest movement had an appealing chant and vision, it lacked a long-term plan that could lead to change. Over the past year, it has been unable to translate its slogan into a political programme and was therefore unable to mobilise other social and political forces around its goals.
But despite the authorities’ success in regaining control, we have continued to see acts of civil disobedience across Iran. Activists, artists and academics express themselves through social media and make public displays of protest not wearing hijab. The fact that the voices of protesters have not been silenced sustains hope for change.
A concerning development, however, is the increasing gap between established civil society and the protest movement. CSOs were hesitant to participate in the protests when they began, and this gap has only increased since. There is even a lack of a common vocabulary in calling for mobilisation and articulating demands. Established CSOs disagree with what they view as radical moves by the protest movement, as they have a more conservative view of society and the future. A possible explanation for this divergence may be the generation gap, as the protest movement is formed by much younger activists.
To reassert control, the authorities have imposed stricter control over media, universities, unions and other associations. In essence, civic space has shrunk dramatically over the past year, with the authorities purging most sectors of everyone who disagrees with them.
Internationally there was a huge wave of support for the protest movement from governments, civil society and media, particularly early on. This was extremely helpful for echoing the voices of Iranian protesters and pressuring the authorities to meet their demands. But as the authorities regained control of the streets, we have seen a change in the approach of western governments. They are returning to diplomacy and negotiations with Iran, slowly normalising their relations. This has boosted the Iranian regime’s confidence, re-legitimising it and giving it space to spread its propaganda.
What tactics has the government used to limit further mobilisation?
The number one tactic of the regime to crack down on protests has been to arrest protesters. Over the past year, thousands have been arrested, including over 20,000 who were arrested during the protests. Some have been given long jail sentences.
The second tactic has been the prevention of organising and networking. Even small communities have been actively prevented from getting together. Online networking has been limited by censorship, filtering and hacking. Leaders and activists trying to establish any form of group are arrested and their work is disrupted. They threaten activists with jail and even death. They also target their personal life by demanding that they be fired or suspended from work or university. Many teachers and professors who supported the protest movement have been fired and students expelled.
To reach those who may not have joined the protest yet, the authorities spread propaganda, fake news and conspiracy theories that delegitimise the protest movement. Some communities fear the protest movement as a result.
To prevent the development of a political alternative to the regime, the authorities have targeted the opposition within and outside Iran. Their main aim seems to be to sow division among opposition groups and force them to deal with issues internal to the opposition movement instead of focusing on developing an alternative coalition. Iranian cyber forces have supported these efforts through hacking and social media manipulation.
What forms has resistance taken in response?
Iranian activists have pursued two strategies in response. First, the protest movement sought to widen its scope to increase its resilience. By mobilising excluded ethnic groups such as Baloch and Kurdish people, the protest movement expanded to more cities and communities, making the crackdown more difficult. Second, the protest movement tried to stay on the streets for as long as possible, hoping to create division among crackdown forces.
Internationally, the movement’s main strategy was to try to isolate the regime by forcing the severance of as many diplomatic connections as possible. For example, it successfully advocated for Iran to be removed from the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and it also sought to force the closure of Iranian embassies in western states.
How have Iranian organisations from the diaspora or in exile supported the protest movement in Iran?
We have observed two phases in the involvement of the diaspora and exiled Iranian organisations in the protest movement. In the first phase, they organised large-scale solidarity mobilisations and projects in support of the ‘Women, Life, Freedom’ protests in Iran. Over 80,000 Iranians from the diaspora participated in the solidarity protest in Berlin in Germany, for example.
After this initial phase, however, each political group in exile tried to present itself as the leader of the protest movement. This broke the solidarity and unity of the movement. Instead of fighting against the regime, some diaspora groups mostly fought each other. Independent activists and organisations in the diaspora that didn’t want to be caught in this fight decreased their involvement. For the protest movement to succeed, opposition groups and political movements need to get better at resolving their conflicts, reaching compromises and building a unified anti-regime coalition.
Has the crackdown intensified as the first anniversary approaches?
Civil society activists have continued to be arrested and organisations put under pressure and shut down. But as the first anniversary approaches, we are seeing repression increase, particularly in universities and among journalists. Universities have recently fired more lecturers and professors and expelled more students who participated in last year’s protests. Student associations have been shut down long ago and any form of student organising is banned.
Journalists are also being heavily repressed. The authorities are disrupting reporting and coverage of protest actions and calls for protests around 16 September. They are threatening and arresting journalists, prosecuting them and handing them heavy sentences.
Independent lawyers, who have been instrumental in supporting arrested and imprisoned activists, are also being threatened. Lawyers have played key roles in defending activists in court and spreading information about their trials, informing the public on the authorities’ repression. As a result, they are being threatened with losing their licences or being arrested.
Is Iran closer to change now than a year ago?
I think we are multiple steps closer to change than before. Iranians are less scared of the consequences of their activism. They dare to take action against the regime. The voice of protest is louder and the severity of the crackdown only shows how scared the regime is of the protest movement. The regime understands it won’t be easy to shut down this protest movement, which threatens the legitimacy and therefore the existence of the regime.
We also see a major lifestyle change. People on the streets are now dressed differently and are less afraid of showing their lifestyle in public. Although political change is minimal, cultural change following last year’s protests is clearly visible. This change shouldn’t be underestimated.
What needs to happen for political change to take place?
Iranians need to realise the power of being together. Change comes from power, and power comes from organising and acting together. To bring about change, we need social power and to create social power, organising is essential. By forming associations, organisations and networks, Iranians can demand and achieve change.
For this to happen, three types of changes are required. First is a change in attitude. Iranian activists need to think positively and constructively instead of negatively and destructively. Second is a change in behaviour. We will only achieve democracy if we also act democratically and use democratic tools. This means avoiding any form of violence and understanding that democracy does not rise from bloodshed and fire. Third is a change in context. It is key to empower society to say no and resist the regime.
The international community could support change by helping to increase the resilience of the social movement and its activists, both online and offline. The pursuit of meaningful and sustainable change is a marathon and it’s instrumental to echo the voices of activists and provide sustainable support. A coalition of international civil society organisations could help by providing strategic support to Iranian activists.
Civic space in Iran is rated ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
Get in touch with Volunteer Activists through itswebsite.
IRAN: Political humour as a tool against authoritarian regimes
Ahead of the publication of the 2018 State of Civil Society Report on the theme of ‘Reimagining Democracy’, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic practices and principles, the challenges they encounter and the victories they score in doing so. CIVICUS speaks to the Iranian-born political cartoonist Nik Kowsar, who was jailed for his humorous criticism before eventually emigrating to Canada, where he became a citizen. A former recipient of the international Award for Courage for Editorial Cartooning, he currently resides in the United States.
1. Would you tell us the story of that crocodile you drew, and how it changed your life?
I was born in Iran, and I had always lived in Iran until I had to get out of the country in 2003. I was a geologist by training and a cartoonist by trade. In 2000 I drew a cartoon and went to prison for it. My drawing apparently caused a national security issue: thousands of clergy students gathered and shouted for my death and they sat there for four nights, until I was arrested.
All I had done was draw a crocodile that was shedding crocodile tears and strangling a journalist, while claiming that the journalist was killing him. The name that I gave the crocodile rhymed with the name of an ayatollah. Of course, I denied any resemblance between the two, but still, you know, there was a political message there. From that day on, I became a sponsor for Lacoste – they didn’t sponsor me, but I started buying the shirts with the crocodile logo for myself, and I always wear them as a symbol and a reminder.
Long story short, I went to prison and underwent interrogation, and eventually I walked free. But I didn’t quit my job as a cartoonist and I started receiving death threats that eventually got serious, and in 2003 I had to escape. I had to leave my wife and daughter behind – they were only able to join me in Canada four years later, in 2007.
2. Did you see cartoons as a safer means of expression, a way of saying some things without saying them, when speech is heavily censored?
In Iran we used to say: ‘We have freedom of speech, what we don’t have is freedom afterspeech’. When you produce content that powerful people or organisations dislike, no matter how that content is packaged, they will try to shut you down by all means, including allegations and criminal charges like undermining national security, working with the enemy, indecency or attacking Islam. Anything can be used against you in Iran – and in other Islamic countries as well. I’ve been working with Tunisian and Palestinian cartoonists, and they all have problems with their governments.
What is said with a cartoon is more difficult to erase than anything else: a good cartoon is even more valuable than a thousand words, because it stays in your mind for ages. A ‘joke’ is a serious matter: it goes directly to the point, it exposes the absurd. In a way, cartoonists can be the conscience, the moral compass of a society – it is not a matter of right and left, but a matter of right or wrong. So, cartoonists are very important, and it is not wonder that many governments – from Iran to Equatorial Guinea to Turkey – are trying to pressure them into silence.
3. What have you done since leaving Iran?
While in Canada, I studied journalism and worked with a news agency for three years. I joined IFEX in 2008, and starting in 2009 I ran a news website specifically for and about Iran. This became one of the top news websites on Iranian issues, although it was filtered and firewalled in Iran. At some point, however, we stopped getting funding; we understood that the Obama administration’s policies towards Iran, their efforts to connect with the regime, were a major reason why other organisations stopped funding us. We had to let it go.
As a cartoonist with fibromyalgia, who has had to stop drawing as a professional, I now work with Cartoonist Rights Network International. I was once a client, now I am a board member. We are a human rights organisation, focused on the freedom of expression, and we support cartoonists in distress: cartoonists who are oppressed by the regimes in their countries, threatened, arrested or sent to prison.
Cartoonists are vulnerable, and even more so after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. There is increasing solidarity among them, and they are better connected now, through our organisation and others – but still, they are in danger. What needs to be done is provide a means of sustenance for cartoonists who are in trouble. That’s very difficult, because non-profits are not rich, and also because a cartoonist cannot live off assistance funds forever – they need to be paid to do what they do best.
Finally, as a geologist and an expert on Iran’s water problems, I am back to working on water issues. Iran has a big water problem, which is possibly going to create big chaos in the near future. There was an uprising in December 2017 and January 2018, and only in cities hit by water crisis and drought, where people were too desperate and felt they had nothing left to lose, were the protests not easily contained and people were killed. We will see more and more clashes in areas that are hit by drought.
4. Do you think environmental issues, including water, should be treated as political issues?
Most definitely. That is exactly what I am working on. Water may easily become a major political issue, in Iran and in the whole Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, an already unstable one. Iran has always been a dry country, with rainfall about a third of the median around the world. But for 3,500 years Iranians were able to manage their water resources through various technologies. Over the past 50 years, however, mega-dams and deep wells have ruined our environment and most aquifers have been depleted; as a result, 85 percent of our groundwater is now gone. Climate change has only made it worse: last year, we had 78 percent less snow storage in our mountains compared to the previous year.
Now, Iranians may be oppressed because of their beliefs and ideas, but when there’s not enough water to drink and produce food, they have reached a tipping point. In Syria the drought worsened from 2006 to 2009, as a result of which a million people from the north-eastern provinces had to leave their lands and migrate to the margins of bigger cities. When the Arab Spring started, it sparked protests in Syria as well – but in this case, they led to civil war. We are talking about farmers and herdsmen, people who had lost their livelihoods, many of whom had joined militant groups. Factor in an intolerant, authoritarian government that could not manage the protests, and there you go. Something similar could happen in Iran.
5. Are you saying civil war is a likely outcome for Iran? Isn’t there any way pro-democracy forces could turn the discontent in their favour?
That’s what some of us are worrying about. Pressure for water could, maybe, lead to a democratic opening as well. We are educating the public about the water situation. Unfortunately, many political groups have no clue about environmental issues – they have never cared about them, don’t understand them and don’t see how they could connect to their political struggles. In trying to change this, I am currently working on a documentary about water, connecting the struggles with water shortages that we are seeing in places as diverse as Cape Town in South Africa, Seville in Spain and even the Vatican City and some parts of the US. Our contacts in Iran are collecting material for us and documenting the situation as well, and we are doing a collaborative bilingual project, in English and Persian, to educate the public, including academics and politicians. Because if we don’t do anything about it, rather than democracy what we will get is more uprisings, repression, and hundreds or thousands of people killed in places hit by drought.
Civic space in Iran is rated as ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor,indicating overwhelming restrictions in the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.
ITALY: ‘Accusing activists of vandalism is much easier than implementing renewable energy policies’
CIVICUS speaks with Gabriella Abbate of Last Generation about climate activism and its criminalisation in Italy, a country that has recently experienced both drought and devastating floods.
Last Generation is an international network of climate activists using civil disobedience to compel governments to address the climate emergency by enabling citizen participation and financially supporting the global south as a primary victim of climate change that it hasn’t caused.
Why are climate protests on the rise in Italy?
Italy is heavily affected by climate and ecological crises: it experienced 310 climate disasters in 2022 alone, one of the main reasons behind them being the use of fossil fuels. The Italian government’s funding of fossil fuels has been steadily increasing, reaching €2.8 billion (approx. US$3 billion) between 2019 and 2021 and comprising 90 per cent of Italy’s total investment in fossil energy. Italy is the world’s sixth largest fossil energy lender, ahead even of Russia and Saudi Arabia.
In reaction to these energy policies, transnational activist networks including Last Generation, Extinction Rebellion and Scientists Rebellion are organising climate protests throughout Italy. They all use nonviolent civil disobedience tactics such as roadblocks, soiling with washable and vegetable-based paint and gluing. Last Generation is currently protesting to demand that the Italian government immediately cease public funding for fossil fuels and respect the agreements made by European Union member states in the 2030 climate and energy framework to increase the share of renewable energies, improve energy efficiency and cut greenhouse gas emissions.
What challenges are climate protesters facing in Italy?
A major challenge has been the criticism of our ways of protesting and the way we have been portrayed by the media. I think it is much easier to present someone as a vandal than to try to understand the root causes of the anger driving their action. The media and the state strongly exploit people’s lack of awareness regarding the innocuous materials used in the actions, such as vegetable charcoal, which leads to plenty of misinformation. However, more and more people are still joining our movement, perhaps driven by personal fear of the climate catastrophe, but also due to the realisation that the label of ‘eco vandalism’ is only a facade to mask the problem and that the negative consequences of our actions are minor and superficial.
On the other hand, the consequences of our activism being portrayed as violent and as acts of vandalism have been profound. There are currently three Last Generation activists facing trial for spraying the Senate building in Rome. They’re accused of ‘criminal damage’ and risk up to three years in prison. Never mind that the paint they used in the protest was washable.
In April, the Italian government introduced a new law specifically to punish climate actions seen as damaging monuments or cultural sites with fines ranging from €20,000 to €40,000 (approx. US$21,500 to US$43,000) and possible imprisonment for those caught in the act. In this regard, it should be noted that an essential part of Last Generation’s activism is to draw attention to one’s responsibility for one’s choices, which ends up accentuating the consequences of the actions we take. We take responsibility by not running away after an action, and this puts us in an even riskier position. Another tool used by the Italian state is indictment for ‘criminal conspiracy’, a charge historically used against the mafia.
The Italian government criminalises climate activists because by doing so it can continue avoiding its responsibilities regarding the wellbeing of its citizens. Accusing activists of vandalism is much easier than implementing renewable energy policies.
How does Last Generation support activists so they can continue mobilising for climate action?
Last Generation supports prosecuted activists by using funds from donations to pay their legal fees and hire experts to help them navigate court proceedings. We also share information about their cases on social media to gather international solidarity and support.
How do you connect with the global climate movement?
Last Generation is part of the A22 coalition, an international network of nonviolent civil disobedience campaigners, all of which demand their governments adopt measures to address ecoclimate collapse. The coalition was established in 2022 and it already includes at least 10 different campaigns advocating with governments in Europe, the Pacific and the USA.
Within the coalition we share not only strategies and best practices but also victories, such as that obtained in the Netherlands last month. In April, following months of continuous campaigning by our Dutch allies, Schiphol Airport decided to ban private jets and night flights from 2025. It is setting new rules that establish clear limits on noise and emissions and has dropped plans to build an additional runway.
This network is a great source of support. We help each other increase the visibility of our campaigns. It has certainly helped us attract more people to Non Paghiamo il Fossile (We Don’t Pay for Fossil) and other environmental campaigns in Italy and beyond.
Civic space in Italy is rated ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
Joint Letter to Bahrain King: Free 400-day hunger striker Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace
King of Bahrain, Shaikh Hamad bin 'Issa Al Khalifa
Crown Prince and Prime Minister, Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa
We, the undersigned, are writing to you concerning Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace, an academic, activist and blogger imprisoned in Bahrain whose health is declining rapidly. We respectfully urge you to secure Al-Singace’s immediate and unconditional release, and in the meantime, ensure he receives proper medical care, is protected from torture and other ill-treatment, and that his academic work is transferred to his family.
Abduljalil Al-Singace, 60, is serving a life sentence for his role in peaceful protests calling for democratic reform in Bahrain in 2011. He has been imprisoned for almost 12 years solely for exercising his human rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
Al-Singace has been on hunger strike since 8 July 2021 and has now exceeded 400 days without solid food. We are deeply concerned by the current state of his health as his blood sugar has reached an extremely low level. We are especially concerned that in flagrant disregard of his physicians’ orders, the delivery of multiple essential prescribed medicines has either been delayed or denied, including pills necessary for his nervous system and bodily functions, and eye drops.
Al-Singace suffers from post-polio syndrome and multiple other health problems, including severe intermittent headaches, a prostate problem, arthritis in his shoulder joint, tremors, numbness, and diminished eyesight. In January 2022, his neurologist requested a CT scan, but the authorities have reportedly refused the request to have the procedure performed at the Salmaniya Medical Complex, run by the Health Ministry. Instead, the authorities insist that the test be conducted at the King Hamad Military Hospital. But he does not believe that he would receive adequate and timely healthcare at King Hamad Military Hospital, given that he has yet to be informed of the result of an MRI scan of his shoulder taken there in October 2021. This delay amounts to a deliberate failure to provide healthcare in line with Bahrain’s obligations under international law. Given his fragility and pre-existing health problems, this denial of healthcare puts his life at risk and may lead to irreversible damage. Therefore, we call on the government to immediately provide him with adequate healthcare.
Al-Singace’s hunger strike is in response to the prison authorities’ confiscation of his book on Bahraini dialects of Arabic that he spent four years researching and writing by hand.
On 18 July 2021, the authorities transferred him from Jau prison to the Kanoo Medical Centre, where he continues to be held. The same month, the Bahrain Ministry of Interior Ombudsman declared that his book could not be turned over to his family until a “legal decision” about its contents was made. In November 2021, a legal decision clarified the apolitical nature of the book, but government authorities have yet to return the book to his family. In March 2022, an Ombudsman representative visited Al-Singace, made baseless allegations about the book's content and asked him to edit and resubmit the book for the authorities to review.
In July 2022, the UN Human Rights Committee repeated its call to the government of Bahrain to release Al-Singace along with other unjustly imprisoned human rights defenders including Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Naji Fateel. Today, on 13 August, Al-Singace marks 12 years since his initial arrest in 2010. He was subsequently unjustly re-imprisoned after a brief hiatus of 21 days in early 2011 and was re-arrested on 17 March 2011 during the uprising. Today also marks the 401st day of Al-Singace’s hunger strike.
We call upon you to release Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace immediately and unconditionally. We also urge you to ensure he receives his medication without delay and has access to adequate healthcare, in compliance with medical ethics, including the principles of confidentiality, autonomy, and informed consent, and is protected from torture and other ill-treatment. We also call on you to ensure that his work is immediately handed over to his family.
- Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
- Amnesty International
- Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
- Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
- Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)
- English PEN
- European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
- Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
- Human Rights Watch
- Freedom House
- PEN International
- Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
- Scholars at Risk
Upon his return from London with his family, Dr. Al-Singace was arrested at the Bahrain International Airport on 13 August 2010. A detailed account of his torture allegations can be found in a report by Human Rights Watch published on 1 September 2010, which states:
“Al-Singace, who had spent the previous 15 days in incommunicado detention, told al-Buainain of having been handcuffed and blindfolded the entire time. Al-Singace said that his captors beat him on his fingers with a hard instrument, slapped him around, and pulled and twisted his nipples and ears with tongs.”
When the Arab spring erupted in Bahrain, government authorities released Al-Singace on 24 February 2011. However, he was soon rearrested 21 days later, on 17 March 2011. Since then, Al-Singace has remained in arbitrary detention.
In November 2011, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry documented in a report that the police subjected Dr. Al-Singace to nightly beatings for two months while they held him in solitary confinement. The commission said that the authorities targeted his disability by confiscating his crutches, making him “stand on one leg for prolonged periods” and by pushing his crutch “into his genitals.” The commission also found that the authorities “threatened him with rape and made sexually explicit comments about his wife and his daughter.”
Joint Statement: End judicial harassment of Singaporean activist Jolovan Wham
CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and its partners Asia Democracy Network (ADN), Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Forum Asia, Instituto de Comunicación y Desarrollo (ICD), West African Human Rights Defenders Network, Experts for Security and Global Affairs Association, Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN), European Civic Forum (ECF) and International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) call on the Singapore government to drop contempt charges against human rights activist, Jolovan Wham for his comments on social media criticising the judiciary. Our organisations believe the charges brought against him are politically motivated, aimed to suppress his freedom of expression.
- Journalists on the front lines of global assault
By Cathal Gilbert, David Kode and Teldah Mawarire
With reporters under attack the world over, it is imperative that citizens rally to protect press freedom. We live in a time when hard-won human rights protections are at risk of being swept aside by a rising tide of authoritarianism, fear mongering and xenophobia. The resulting global assault on fundamental civic freedoms is, in turn, devastating press freedom and exposing an increasing number of journalists to the threat of censure, the loss of livelihood and physical attack.
Read on: News24
- Khashoggi paid the price for being a 'different Saudi'
By Masana Ndinga-Kanga, Crisis Response Fund Lead at CIVICUS
Since Jamal Khashoggi disappeared on October 2, 2018, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the Saudi authorities have continuously changed their narrative of what happened. From claiming that he left alive and well, through asserting he got into a "fistfight", to insisting he was the victim of a "rogue operation", Riyadh has been unable to present a convincing, coherent explanation of what exactly happened that day in the consulate.
Read on: Al Jazeera
- Lebanon's Adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights
Statement at 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Adoption of the Universaly Periodic Review report of the Lebanese Republic
CIVICUS welcomes Lebanon’s participation in the UPR process and for accepting 20 recommendations relating to civic space during this UPR cycle. However, in our joint UPR submission with partners we documented that since its last review, the Lebanese Republic has not implemented or taken any concrete steps to implement 5 of the 6 recommendations relating to civic space made in 2015.
The Lebanese authorities continue to use excessive force against peaceful protesters when ever they demonstrate and attack journalists and representatives of the media who cover the protests. For example, security forces used excessive force and violence against protesters in August 2020 when the demonstrators called for an end to corruption and for accountability and independent investigations into the 4 August 2020 blast in Beirut. We urge Lebanon to implement as a priority recommendations relating to excessive use of force and freedom of peaceful assembly.
Members of the LGBTI community are regularly subjected to harassment and persecution through vague and discriminatory laws. Events are shut down and activists are summoned for interrogation.
Freedom of expression and media freedoms continue to deteriorate in Lebanon. During the October 2019 protests, more than a hundred journalists and media workers were attacked as they covered the demonstrations and many of these attacks were perpetuated by government agents. Many of these attacks were captured on video yet those responsible have not been held accountable. This failure or unwillingness of the government to hold those responsible to account emboldens the perpetrators with a high sense of impunity.
We are also concerned about the killing of Lebanese human rights defender Lokman Slim who was found in his car by the Lebanese police after he was shot dead in February 2021 in the South of Lebanon. He advocated for the rights of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and documented war crimes in Lebanon and Syria.
CIVICUS and partners calls on the Government of Lebanon to take proactive measures to address these concerns and implement recommendations to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for civil society.
- Malawi: CIVICUS calls for the immediate release of activist and journalist Vitus-Gregory Gondwe
CIVICUS calls on the Malawian authorities to immediately release Vitus-Gregory Gondwe, a journalist and activist based in Malawi, for his work that exposes government corruption and urges Malawian authorities to act against individuals involved in corruption.
- Malaysia: Government should respect human rights as it seeks UN Human Rights Council membership
#Malaysia: The government should respect human rights and implement a comprehensive program of reforms as it seeks UN Human Rights Council membership https://t.co/9lwz41q3TY #UNGA #HRC48 pic.twitter.com/JCzX4jqU6d— CIVICUS (@CIVICUSalliance) September 21, 2021
YAB Dato Sri Ismail Sabri Yaakob
Prime Minister of Malaysia
Pejabat Perdana Menteri, Blok Utama, Bangunan Perdana Putra, Pusat Pentadbiran Kerajaan Persekutuan, 62502 Putrajaya, Malaysia
Dear Prime Minister,
We, the undersigned international human rights organisations—ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation—call on the new government of Malaysia to implement a comprehensive program of reform to strengthen human rights in Malaysia, especially the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, as a prospective member of the UN Human Rights Council. Malaysia must also sign and ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and demonstrate that it is committed to protect human rights.
During the Human Rights Council pledging session on 8 September 2021, organised by Amnesty International and International Service for Human Rights, H.E. Dr Ahmad Faisal Muhamad expressed Malaysia’s unequivocal commitment to advancing human rights for all, noting the domestic legislation in place to enable citizens to “exercise rights and freedoms responsible and not to suppress them.” However, over the last two years there has been a deterioration in the state of human rights and fundamental freedoms under the former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government. This has included violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, the failure to ratify key international human rights treaties, including the ICCPR, together with the government’s dismal record of cooperating with the UN human rights system.
As the government seeks membership to the UN Human Rights Council and has made public pledges to uphold human rights, it is imperative that the new government takes sincere and concrete action to improve its rights record at home. The new government has a unique opportunity to reverse the rights-violating actions of its predecessors and shift to a new rights-respecting approach. Legal and policy reform are pivotal to attain this and would demonstrate a genuine intention from the new government to meet its international human rights obligations.
Without overhauling the violations and abuse of human rights in its country, Malaysia cannot be a valuable and effective member of the Human Rights Council.
Freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association
Several laws in Malaysia unduly fetter the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. In order to fulfil its pledges made to the Human Rights Council, Malaysia must repeal or substantially revise the following laws:
• The Sedition Act 1948 – Despite the former government’s commitment to conduct a study and a review of the security laws, including the Sedition Act, the authorities aggressively applied the law, primarily against government critics. Between January and August 2021, NGOs documented the investigation of 17 cases involving 37 individuals under the Sedition Act. The recent investigation of the #Lawan protest organisers under the Sedition Act is worrying and runs contrary to Malaysia’s international human rights obligations. The new government must follow-through with its pledge to review this archaic colonial law and should ultimately repeal it, noting that it has no place in a rights-respecting democracy.
• The Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 – Under the former government, the Communications and Multimedia Act continued to be used as the primary tool to censor human rights defenders, journalists, artists, political opponents, and ordinary members of the public who have been critical of government officials or Malaysian royalty or shared opinions about issues deemed sensitive, such as race and religion. We are encouraged to hear H.E. Dr Ahmad Faisal Muhamad state during the Human Rights Council pledging session on 8 September 2021 that, “the government is in the midst of amending the Communications and Multimedia Act.” The new government must ensure the Act is adequately reformed in consultation with stakeholders so it can no longer be used by authorities as a weapon to silence expression.
• The Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 – In its pledges to the Human Rights Council, the government committed to a review of the problematic Peaceful Assembly Act. It is imperative that this review leads to legislative reform of this law, which authorities have used to target protest organisers and discourage assemblies. The space for peaceful protests shrank considerably under the previous administration, who disrupted gatherings critical of authorities and arbitrarily arrested peaceful protesters under the guise of dealing with the pandemic. We urge the new government to reverse this approach and ensure adequate protection for the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
• The Societies Act 1966 – Muhyiddin’s government utilised the broad powers of the Societies Act to delay and even rejectthe formation of new political parties, undermining the right to freedom of association, which is critical in a functioning democracy. While not included in its written pledges, we encourage the government to substantively revise this law, ceasing its use as a barrier to the exercise of the freedom of association.
• Other legislation routinely used to silence dissent includes Sections 504 and 505b of the Penal Code, the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, the Film Censorship Act 2002, Section 114 of the Evidence Act 1950, and the Official Secrets Act 1972. Wholesale reform of these laws is required to ensure that the right to freedom of expression can be exercised in the country without fear.
The reform or repeal of the aforementioned laws have been repeatedly raised by the Malaysian human rights commission, human rights groups, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Special Rapporteurs, and other States as essential to safeguarding human rights in the country. Encouragingly, during the pledging session, H.E. Dr Ahmad Faisal Muhamad stated that “the government is cognizant of the need to continuously review these acts to make sure that they continue to be efficient, continue to be relevant, and in line with international standards.” To demonstrate that this commitment is sincere, the government must prioritise meaningful legislative reform of all laws impeding on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.
Undermining accountability mechanisms
ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS are further concerned that domestic accountability mechanisms have been weakened in Malaysia. While the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) retains its “A” status as a National Human Rights Institution, SUHAKAM’s yearly reports have been largely ignored by the government. Although SUHAKAM’s 2018 report was debated for the first time in parliament after 19 years under the previous Pakatan Harapan government in December 2019, there was a lack of follow-through by Muhyiddin’s government.
Concerningly, on 8 August 2021 SUHAKAM announced that its commissioners have been called in for police questioning over their attendance as monitors at the #Lawan protest. Two SUHAKAM commissioners, Jerald Joseph and Dato Mah Weng Kai, were investigated on 5 August at the Dang Wangi District Police Headquarters under Section 21A of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 and the Peaceful Assembly Act.
In presenting its candidacy for membership of the UN Human Rights Council, Malaysia made the voluntary commitment to “[c]ontinue to strengthen human rights institutions and mechanisms in Malaysia.” The government pledged funding support, law review, and more government agency engagement with SUHAKAM. A crucial requirement for fulfilling this pledge is for the government to meaningfully engage with SUHAKAM, viewing them as a key partner in upholding human rights.
In its pledges to the Human Rights Council, the government stated that it would “continue to promote diversity,” and that it “firmly embraces the values of inclusivity, acceptance, and understanding in ensuring harmony and peaceful coexistence.” The government asserted that it will take a “whole-of-society approach in the promotion and protection of human rights in the country.”
Despite legislative protections in Malaysia, namely Article 8(2) of the Malaysian Constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender, systemic discrimination against minorities persists. ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS are concerned about homophobic and discriminatory language and actions directed at LGBTQI communities, refugees, migrants, and religious minorities in Malaysia. Any form of national unity must include the rights of minorities, and there is a crucial need for more inclusive and non-discriminatory policies in place.
While the government made no reference to police reform in its pledges to the Human Rights Council, ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS note that it is a pivotal aspect of improving rights protection in Malaysia. Police reform should be prioritised alongside legal reform, as the arbitrary implementation of rights-respecting laws can still lead to human rights violations.
ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS have recorded dozens of incidents of harassment and intimidation by police against activists, human rights defenders and ordinary citizens because of the exercise of their right to freedom of expression. Without police reform, existing restrictive legal provisions will continue to be used to intimidate vocal critics and to shrink civic space in Malaysia.
The new government must reform the Royal Malaysia Police and establish a dedicated Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) with a mandate to receive and investigate complaints about police misconduct and abuse. The IPCMC should be given the necessary powers to investigate abuses, compel cooperation from witnesses and government agencies, subpoena documents, and submit cases for prosecution.
Commitments to the UN human rights mechanisms
It is encouraging to hear Malaysia’s pledge to assess, monitor and implement its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations. The government has committed to work closely with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN in Malaysia to jointly develop a UPR “Monitoring Matrix” to measure the implementation of UPR recommendations that Malaysia has accepted. It has also committed to a “multi-stakeholder biannual consultation” with involvement from civil society and the UN to follow up on UPR recommendations. If adequately acted upon, these commitments could give rise to far-reaching improvements to human rights in Malaysia.
Despite this, the government’s cooperation with mechanisms of the UN Human Rights Council has historically been incredibly poor. Civil society groups working on the UPR process in Malaysia, in their 2021 midterm UPR report, concluded that steps towards ratifying the core human rights instruments, including the ICCPR, have progressed extremely slowly despite commitments made since the first UPR cycle in 2009. ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS hope the new administration will speed up the process of ratification to illustrate its commitment to human rights as it seeks Human Rights Council membership.
In 2019, the Pakatan Harapan government implemented a policy of standing open invitations for visits by the UN Special Procedures. Malaysia has previously hosted various Special Rapporteurs including on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, and on extreme poverty and human rights. The new government should uphold this policy of open invitations, and in particular extend invitations to the Special Rapporteurs on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and on Freedom of Religion or Belief. ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS urge the new government to respond to individual communications from Special Procedures and enter into meaningful dialogues with UN experts rather than deny allegations outright as previous governments have.
To demonstrate its commitment to human rights as a prospective member of the UN Human Rights Council, ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS make the following recommendations to the Malaysian government:
• Ratify the core human rights instruments and their optional protocols, including the ICCPR, and rescind reservations to existing treaties that are contrary to their objectives and principles;
• Extend a standing invitation to all UN Special Procedures, and act swiftly to facilitate visits by the mandates on freedom of expression and on freedom of peaceful assembly and association;
• Implement all recommendations made by UN Member States during the previous cycle of Malaysia’s UPR, in particular those relating to civic space;
• Repeal the Sedition Act 1948, the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, Official Secrets Act 1972, and the Film Censorship Act 1998;
• Reform the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, in particular Section 233(1)(a), to ensure it fully complies with international freedom of expression law and standards;
• Reform the Penal Code, including Sections 504 and 505b, the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012, Section 114 of the Evidence Act, and the Societies Act 1966 in accordance with international law and standards;
• Drop all investigations and charges against those exercising their right to freedom of expression, including social media users;
• Ensure authorities do not harass or instigate arbitrary criminal investigations and proceedings against human rights defenders, protesters, activists, media workers, or opposition political figures;
• Consult with civil society organisations on the shortcomings of Malaysia’s legal framework as they relate to freedom of expression and access to information;
• Establish an IPCMC to investigate police abuses as per the recommendations of the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysia;
• Should Malaysia be granted membership to the Human Rights Council, ensure it exercises earnest efforts to defend and enhance international human rights standards and ensure accountability for human rights violations and abuses in other countries in Southeast Asia and worldwide.
ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS express sincere hope that the new government will take these steps to address the human rights concerns highlighted above and stand ready to engage in constructive dialogue to support such efforts. We hope to hear from you regarding this matter as soon as possible.
ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS.
Cc. Permanent Mission of Malaysia to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva
International Center Cointrin
Route de Pré-Bois 20
1215 Geneva 15
For more information, contact:
Civic space in Malaysia is rated as obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor.
- Malaysia: Acquittal of individuals charged for sedition a positive move for free speech
- A Malaysian court has acquitted three government critics charged under the draconian Sedition Act
- A renown political cartoonist, a human rights lawyer and a parliamentarian were on trial for criticism of the government and judiciary’s political-motivated prosecution of former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim
- CIVICUS calls for sedition charges against others for their activism, to be dropped
- The government must also repeal the Sedition Act ahead of the UN human rights review in November
- Malaysia: Authorities reverting to repressive tactics of former governments to throttle expression online
🇲🇾#Malaysia: Authorities have launched a systematic campaign to silence critical voices online.— CIVICUS (@CIVICUSalliance) June 11, 2021
We join civil society orgs in calling the government to cease baseless investigations & repeal or amend restrictive laws used to silence #FreedomofExpression https://t.co/OrqvtRk9VX pic.twitter.com/vDGWumbVrA
- Malaysia: Civic spaces shrinking at an alarming rate for LGBTQ persons in Malaysia
Together with over 66 organisations, we express concern over the recent raid of a social gathering in Kuala Lumpur and the shrinking civic spaces for LGBTIQ person in Malaysia.
In the wake of Halloween celebrations, the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM), the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department (JAWI), and the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL), conducted a joint raid of a social gathering attended by people of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions (SOGIE), including LGBTQ persons. The raid which took place on October 29, 2022, resulted in the arrests and interrogation of at least 24 gender-diverse persons.
Those arrested were alleged to have committed unclearly defined violations such as “encouraging vice” and “indecent acts”; the use of ‘illegal substances’; and for freely exercising one’s gender expression. All persons have been released on bail, and awaiting further action. Sharing of experiences by the attendees and monitoring by LGBTQ human rights groups responding to the raid show a number of critical human rights violations. They reinforce the ongoing trend of state actions that suggest discriminatory intent to persecute and shrinking spaces for LGBTQ people to live with dignity. During the raid, the attendees were segregated based on religion and gender: gender-diverse persons identified as Muslims were targeted, vilified, mistreated, misgendered, and slapped with charges for violating the Syariah Criminal Offences Act. Trans and gender-diverse people reportedly experienced degrading and humiliating treatment while undergoing urine tests by the police.
READ THE FULL STATEMENT
Civic space in Malaysia is rated as""Obstructed" by the CIVICUS Monitor.
- Malaysia: End escalating harassment of Mentega Terbang Filmmakers
We, the 74 undersigned organisations and individuals, strongly condemn the harassment and intimidation of the artists and filmmakers behind the movie Mentega Terbang who have faced police questioning, death threats and property vandalisation.
- Malaysia: End harassment and intimidation of media workers and critics
Joint Statement with Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists
The Malaysian authorities must immediately put an end to their increasing attacks on freedom of expression, especially the media, international non-governmental organisations Amnesty International, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said today. Laws incompatible with international human rights law and standards, including the Sedition Act 1948 and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998, are being used to limit free speech and press freedom and should be repealed by the legislature.
In the latest move in the ongoing clampdown on criticism and other expression, authorities have targeted those involved in making the documentary “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” by news broadcaster Al Jazeera and its 101 East series – which reported on the authorities’ arrests of migrant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Al-Jazeera is being investigated for sedition and defamation, and has also been accused of breaching the Communications and Multimedia Act by the Malaysian authorities.
On 3 July 2020, Al Jazeera on its 101 East Stream published a documentary that investigated the arrests, detention, and ill-treatment of refugees and undocumented migrant workers during the outbreak of COVID-19 in Malaysia. The documentary highlighted raids conducted by authorities; the inhumane conditions of detention; and the situation of migrant workers who fear arrest. Those detained were found to be held in cramped facilities, while migrant workers at risk of detention suffered from a severe lack of adequate food. The documentary also highlighted the chilling effect the government crackdown has had on the migrant worker community, who fear for their lives and safety.
Rather than addressing the concerns raised in the documentary, the government has instead sought to question the reporters involved, and pursue migrant workers who spoke with Al Jazeera. By initiating a public campaign against migrants and refugees and publishing personal details of the migrant workers who were featured in the report, the authorities have also placed the lives and safety of those interviewed in jeopardy.
The government’s subsequent threats to revoke the visas of foreign workers appears intended to intimidate other migrant workers from speaking up about human rights violations, including mistreatment. These actions have contributed to a worrying rise in intolerance towards freedom of expression, including critical views.
Amnesty International, CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation, and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) consider these actions as forms of harassment and intimidation of the media, migrant workers, and others exercising their right to freedom of expression, including criticism or dissent.
The use of the Sedition Act 1948, Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act, and criminal investigations against the media set a dangerous precedent and are incompatible with international law and standards. These laws place restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression that are overly broad, unnecessary and disproportionate, and inconsistent with rule of law and human rights principles.
We reiterate their our previous calls on the Government of Malaysia to abolish both laws, which have historically been used to silence voices of those challenging government policy.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged earlier this year, the Malaysian government has launched a crackdown on refugees, asylum-seekers and migrant workers, carrying out a series of raids on settlements in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. Most notably, raids were carried out as Labour Day operations on 1 May 2020, but also continued afterwards.
In response to these raids, the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) denounced the crackdowns on migrant workers and journalists on 21 May. Migrant workers fear for their safety and there have been reports of suicide amongst them.
Amid growing concerns about the crackdown, the government has increasingly sought to silence criticism.
On 7 July, refugee aid worker Heidy Quah was questioned by police for posting a statement on the raids and the treatment of migrant and refugee children on social media. Her lawyer confirmed that she is being investigated under the Penal Code for criminal defamation and the Communications and Multimedia Act for the ‘improper use of network facilities or network service’.
Since the Perikatan Nasional government assumed power, numerous investigations have been launched against individuals who have criticized government actions. Since February 2020, a journalist has been investigated by police for reporting on immigration raids; a member of parliament was investigated for criticising the May parliamentary session for not permitting debates; and a large number of ordinary Malaysians have been convicted for a variety of social media postings, including for criticising the enforcement of quarantine orders under the Movement Control Order (MCO).
In another recent attack on media freedom, on 2 July 2020, contempt of court charges were filed against Steven Gan, editor-in-chief of online news outlet Malaysiakini, over comments that were posted by readers that were allegedly critical of the judiciary. The Federal Court will next hear the case on 13 July. If convicted, Gan faces an unlimited prison sentence or fine.
Civic space in Malaysia is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor
- Malaysia: IPCC bill is a step backwards for police accountability
Today, we—Amnesty International Malaysia, ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and Human Rights Watch—call on Members of Parliament in Malaysia to reject the deeply flawed Independent Police Conduct Commission (IPCC) bill and move quickly to table a bill to establish a police accountability mechanism that is truly independent and capable of ensuring adequate police oversight.
The IPCC bill is expected to be tabled in Parliament during this Parliamentary sitting for its second reading. While there is little doubt that Malaysia desperately needs an independent oversight commission for the police, the IPCC bill, first tabled in August 2020, further weakens the already anaemic oversight mechanism currently in place and must be rejected.
The bill fails to address widespread public concerns about police misconduct, ongoing misuse of power against government critics, and custodial deaths. If passed, the bill would not, as the government states, promote accountability, but rather shield police officers from scrutiny and independent oversight.
Police abuse of power in Malaysia
Malaysia has a long history of police abuse, including the excessive use of force, torture, ill-treatment, harassment, and deaths in custody. Human rights violations by police officers have been documented by both national and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
The police have also abused their power to restrict freedom of expression and assembly in Malaysia. The space for peaceful protests has shrunk considerably. Police personnel continue to harass those criticising governmentofficials and have arbitrarily arrested peaceful protesters under the guise of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The aggressive application of the Sedition Act 1948, in particular against government critics, is another abuse of police power frequently witnessed. Between January and August 2021, NGOs documented investigations under the Sedition Act being opened by police in 17 cases involving 37 individuals in total. The recent investigations of the #Lawan protest organisers under the Sedition Act are another worrying example of police overstep to the detriment of human rights.
The Communications and Multimedia Act is also frequently used by the police to censor human rights defenders, journalists, artists, political opponents, and ordinary members of the public who have been critical of the police, government officials or Malaysian royalty, or shared opinions about issues deemed sensitive by the government, such as race and religion.
Police misconduct and violence
This year alone we have seen multiple alarming custodial deaths. In January, former police volunteer reservist Mohd Afis Ahmad died from blunt force trauma to the head just a day after he was arrested. In another case in April, milk trader A Ganapathy was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit upon his release following 12 days in police custody, where he later died. Autopsy results revealed he died from complications arising from injuries on his legs and shoulders, believed to have been sustained while in police custody. In May, security guard S Sivabalan died about 70 minutes after he was arrested by police, allegedly of a heart attack. Promised investigations into each of the above cases appear not to have made any progress.
Police misconduct is not limited to deaths in custody. Allegations of corruption, abuse of power and links to criminal elements have also been raised in recent years. In March this year we were alarmed by allegations from the former Inspector General of Police (IGP) Abdul Hamid Bador that there is a movement of corrupt young police officers or ‘cartels’ within the police force whose ambition is to dominate the police force enabling them to carry out ‘dirty work’ for their own personal interests.
The allegations from the former IGP have shocked the public and highlighted how crucial it is to establish an independent body to investigate these claims and to reform the police force. An independent and effective oversight commission is not going to solve all these problems, but it is an important first step, given the lack of accountability within the police force in Malaysia.
Independent Police Conduct Commission (IPCC)
Despite these concerns, the tabled IPCC bill is not a move towards police accountability but the opposite. The bill further weakens the limited police oversight provided by the current system under the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC). Our key concerns with the bill are as follows:
- No powers of search and seizure- The EAIC, for all its weaknesses, has the power to perform searches and seizures in its investigations of wrongdoing, including custodial deaths. The IPCC does not and as such would weaken the ability to conduct meaningful and effective investigations into police misconduct.
- Limited powers to compel documents and no provisions for hearingsUnder the IPCC, documents or evidence can be withheld if deemed ‘prejudicial to national security or national interest,’ a vaguely defined clause that is open to abuse. Unlike the EAIC, the IPCC does not provide for a hearing. Hearings would allow commissioners to fully explore and examine complaints, ensure greater transparency to victims of abuses and their families, and inform the public and decision makers around police procedures and policies.
- Prior notice requirement for site visits- The IPCC commissioners cannot visit police premises, lockups, or places of detention without prior notice to the head of department. Experience from the National Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) shows that authorities may treat early notice requirements as permission requirements, diluting the power of site visits.
- Limited investigation power - Even if the IPCC commissioners are able to successfully carry out investigations despite the above limitations, its powers are limited to making recommendations to a relevant body such as the Police Force Commission, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission or other relevant authorities. Given how recommendations by bodies such as the EAIC and SUHAKAM have been consistently ignored, it is not unreasonable to expect the IPCC will face the same blue brick wall. The IPCC is also exempt from investigating any act provided for in the Inspector-General Standing Orders (IGSO) (Sections 96 and 97 of the Police Act 1967). The standing orders generally govern issues such as the conduct of arrests, the treatment of detainees, and on matters related to permissible use of weapons, amongst others.
- Appointment process lacks independence and is unclear- Under the IPCC, as with the EAIC, members of the Commission will be appointed and dismissed by the King on the advice of the Prime Minister, calling into question the independence of the body. Moreover, appointed members may themselves be police officers. The Chief Executive Officer of the Commission is appointed by the Minister of Home Affairs, which further undermines the principle of independence and impartiality.
The need for an independent police oversight body
The idea of an independent police oversight body was first proposed in 2005, as part of 125 recommendations made by the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysian Police. The commission was composed of prominent public figures, including a former IGP. The police force also made its submissions as did the Retired Senior Police Officers' Association of Malaysia.
A key recommendation was the establishment of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to investigate police abuses and discipline those responsible. A proposed bill was drafted as part of the report. Yet, more than 16 years later, Malaysia seems to be moving ever further away from meaningful police reform.
Police leadership has resisted independent oversight and the IPCMC has not yet been established, despite vigorous and sustained campaigning from civil society and human rights organisations. The previous Pakatan Harapan government tabledan IPCMC bill in July 2019 although it was criticised by human rights groups for being insufficient.
Malaysia needs an independent oversight body that is truly independent and impartial from the State and the police, to avoid a conflict of interests. To be effective, the oversight body must possess real powers and responsibilities to investigate and take concrete action against police officers responsible for serious abuses. It is long overdue for the Malaysian government to treat the matter of custodial deaths and other police misconduct with the urgency it warrants. The families of those who have died while in police detention deserve answers and justice for their loved ones. People in Malaysia need to be assured that these deaths will not continue to occur with impunity and that those who abuse their positions of power and responsibility will be held accountable.
Therefore, we urge the government to drop the IPCC bill and instead urgently table a bill that establishes an oversight commission that is truly independent, with sufficient powers to effectively investigate and take action against police misconduct. The rule of law applies to all, even the police.
- Amnesty International Malaysia
- ARTICLE 19
- CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
- Human Rights Watch
Civic space in Malaysia is rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
- Malaysia: Ismail Sabri’s government is undermining fundamental freedoms
One year after Ismail Sabri took over as the Prime Minister of Malaysia, ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS areconcerned about systematic attempts by his government to restrict and undermine fundamental freedoms, especially freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
- Malaysia: Senate’s rejection of bill abolishing fake news law a step backwards for the Pakatan Harapan government
ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS are extremely disappointed that the Senate (Dewan Negara) has rejected a bill to repeal the repressive Anti-Fake News Act 2018. International and national rights groups, UN experts and Malaysian civil society have raised serious concerns that the law is inconsistent with international standards and may be used to violate the right to freedom of expression. The failure to abolish the law runs contrary to the new government’s commitment to reform the restrictive environment for expression and public discourse established by the previous Barisan Nasional government.
- Maldives: amend provision in the evidence act that compels journalists to reveal sources
The undersigned 10 organizations call on the government of Maldives to repeal or amend the deeply problematic provision in the Evidence Act (Act No. 11/2022) that compels journalists to reveal sources on court orders and to ensure the rights to privacy, freedom of expression and the press in line with international human rights law.
- Journalists on the front lines of global assault