MALAYSIA'S CIVIL SPACE STILL 'OBSTRUCTED' FOR SIXTH YEAR AMID SUPPRESSION OF DISSENT, SATIRE AND PROTEST
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA (MARCH 16, 2023): Malaysia's civic space was rated as "OBSTRUCTED" for the sixth consecutive year, amid continued suppression of dissenting voices and satire as well as restrictions on protests in 2022, an international report released today has found.
The "OBSTRUCTED" category is the middle grade for how well a country respects the freedom of speech, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association. The full range of ratings is from open, narrowed, obstructed, repressed or closed.
The other regional nations falling in the "OBSTRUCTED" category are Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Maldives, Timor-Leste, and Nepal.
Malaysia has been in the "OBTRUCTED" category since CIVICUS Monitor started releasing its annual report in year 2017.
WHY IS MALAYSIA'S CIVIC SPACE "OBTRUCTED"?
Commenting on Malaysia's "OBSTRUCTED" rating, CIVICUS Monitor said it had documented the continued use of restrictive laws to silence dissent in the country, as well as restrictions on protests and harassment of peaceful protesters.
In a statement, CIVICUS Monitor listed the attempts to silence critical voices online last year (2022) as including the Communications and Multimedia Act's (CMA) Section 233, under which graphic designer Fahmi Reza was charged twice on last February 2023 for two satirical posters - caricaturing a former health minister on the shortened COVID-19 quarantine period for ministers and the Ministry of Trade and Industry's order which allowed alcohol factories to continue operating during the COVID-19 lockdown.
It also noted Section 233 - which it said was broad and vague and inconsistent with international law and students - was used for Fahmi's last April arrest over another satirical artwork depicting what appeared to be an ape in a monarch's clothing.
CIVICUS Monitor said an Opposition party member was last April arrested for sedition for his social media comments which allegedly encouraged ethnic Indians not to vote for the MIC, while the CMA was last July used to charge comedian Rizal Van Geyzel over three videos of him performing stand-up comedy.
CIVICUS Monitor also noted that the police had last January called in Free Malaysia Today's journalist Sean Augustin over an article about floods and that whistle-blower Lalitha Kunaratnam faced harassment over two (2) articles that questioned business ties of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief.
" The police disrupted protests and also brought scores of protesters, including activists and opposition politicians, in for questioning for holding spontaneous demonstrations," CIVICUS Monitor said.
It noted that police had last January blocked and distrupted a gathering demanding the MACC chief's resignation over stock purchases with more than 40 individuals brought in for questioning while protesters were also hauled up over anti-war protests in Ukraine and anti-death penalty protests.
CIVICUS Monitor noted that police had last June blocked lawyers' planned march to Parliament for judicial independence.
Police had also last July 2022 stopped " TURUN MALAYSIA" protesters from marching towards Dataran Merdeka over the rise in good's prices and cost of living, and that police later recorded statement from 27 persons - comprising politicians and student activists - with three (3) of them later charged under the Peaceful Assembly Act's Section 9(5).
CIVICUS Monitor noted that the police had last August also launched investigation on 13 protesters over the #ManaKapalLCS protest over the government's handling of the navy's littoral combat ship (LCS) project.
Based on the dates of the events listed, those incidents had taken place during the previous Ismail Sabri administration.
HOW ARE OTHER COUNTRIES IN THE REGION DOING ?
" THe regression of civic space across the Asia region is reaching alarming levels. Most people in the region are living in countries with closed or repressed civic space where their freedoms to speak up, organise or mobilise are under attack on a daily basis," CIVICUS's Asia Pacific researcher Josef Benedict said.
Apart from China, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam which were already in the "CLOSED" category or with the worst rating, he pointed out that Afghanistan, Myanmar and Hong Kong's civic space rating have this year been downgradded from "REPRESSED" to become "CLOSED".
He said the downgrades highlight "HOW AUTHORITARIAN STATES ARE INCREASINGLY GAINING GROUND AND THE CRITICAL NEED TO SUPPORT ACTIVISTS AND CIVIL SOCIETY FROM THESE COUNTRIES WHO ARE PUSHING BACK".
Countries in the Asia region which are in the "REPRESSED" category are the Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, Brunei, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.
Countries that fared better than those in the "OBSTRUCTED" category - which includes Malaysia - are Japan, Mongolia, and South Korea which are in the "NARROWED" category, while Taiwan is the only one with the "OPEN" rating or best category.
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