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Amnesty International’s 2023 Report on Malaysia: Repression and reforms in a challenging year

Amnesty International’s 2023 report on Malaysia highlights failures in freedom of expression, migrant treatment, and ongoing custodial deaths, despite progress in death penalty reforms.



Amnesty International has released its latest report on Malaysia, titled “The State of the World’s Human Rights,” as part of its annual assessment covering 155 countries.

The 2023 report underscores Malaysia’s troubling human rights landscape, highlighting the government’s failure to fulfil promises for legal reform, ongoing punitive measures against refugees and migrants, and continued custodial deaths, despite some progress in death penalty legislation.

Lack of Progress in Freedom of Expression and Assembly

Despite commitments made during the 2022 general election campaign, the Malaysian government has not enacted promised reforms to laws curtailing freedom of expression, nor has it adopted a Freedom of Information Act.

Authorities persistently used existing repressive laws, such as the Communications and Multimedia Act, various provisions of the Penal Code, and the Sedition Act, to stifle dissent and prevent peaceful protests.

For instance, in March, the makers of a film exploring the afterlife were questioned by police and faced ongoing investigations due to governmental and religious objections, culminating in the film’s ban in September.

Further, the Printing Presses and Publications Act has increasingly targeted the LGBTI community, with the government banning books and products promoting what it deems “immoral” content.

The Peaceful Assembly Act and other laws have been employed to restrict peaceful protests, including interrogating organizers of the Women’s March Malaysia and Labour Day rallies.

In a concerning event in July, police arrested eight Ahmadi minority members for their participation in an LGBTI rights gathering.

Refugees and Migrants Under Duress

Refugees and migrants in Malaysia continue to face indefinite detention and forced returns, violating the principle of non-refoulement.

Reports from human rights groups have called for investigations into dire conditions within immigration detention centers, where in 2022 alone, 150 foreigners died.

Authorities revealed the detention of 12,400 individuals, including children, as of December. Despite announcements of moving children to more appropriate temporary facilities, these measures have been criticized for perpetuating indefinite detention.

In one stark violation, 114 individuals were forcibly deported to Myanmar, facing serious human rights risks, despite ongoing legal challenges by Amnesty International Malaysia and Asylum Access Malaysia.

Changes and Challenges in Death Penalty Legislation

On a more progressive note, the Malaysian Parliament passed the Abolition of Mandatory Death Penalty Act 2023 in July, removing the mandatory death penalty for seven offenses and allowing for sentencing discretion.

However, the alternative sentences introduced, such as long prison terms and whipping, have sparked concerns over potential cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

Furthermore, the Revision of Sentence of Death and Imprisonment for Natural Life Act was enacted, offering a review opportunity for over 1,000 death row inmates. Although a moratorium on executions remains, the courts continue to sentence individuals to death where applicable.

Persistent Issues and Limited Oversight

Custodial deaths remain a significant concern, with at least 13 individuals, including foreigners, dying in police custody in 2023. The newly enforced Independent Police Conduct Commission Act, intended to oversee police conduct, has been criticized for its inadequate independence and lack of enforcement power.

Indigenous Rights and Environmental Challenges

The rights of Indigenous Peoples are increasingly threatened by developments such as palm oil plantations, logging, and dams. Legal challenges by Indigenous communities, such as the Temoq people in April, emphasize the government’s neglect of environmental and communal rights.

Additionally, the delayed development of the national climate change bill, now postponed by up to three years, reflects a slow response to urgent environmental concerns.

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