Malaysia to keep repressive security law
by Steve Suwannarat

The Malaysian government says it has no plans to scarp controversial security legislation adopted to fight terrorism but used to repress all forms of dissent. Disappointed, ASEAN parliamentarians for human rights call for a “stop [to] the use of draconian measures that curtail fundamental freedoms.”

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – Malaysia does not plan to repeal the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA), the deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) said last week.

This has disappointed plenty of people in the country as well as among its neighbours in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), reigniting the debate on a law introduced to fight terrorism that allows detention without trial.

Noting that Malaysia is seemingly open to reforms, many had called for the law to be changed to meet international standards, guarantee basic human rights, and prevent any abuse against individuals and groups critical of the authorities or laws considered obsolete or arbitrary.

The latter represent a constant threat even though they are viewed as a way to ostensibly protect the authorities and the population’s sensibilities.

Last month, police detained activist Arun Dorasamy, who criticised the prime minister for officiating the conversion of a Hindu man to Islam, under Section 504 of the Penal Code and Section 233 of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission Act (Internet abuse).

“Unfortunately, this is just one among the many recent developments that heightens our concern,” writes Indonesia’s Mercy Chriesty Barends, chairperson of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).

“We reiterate our call earlier this year: for the Malaysian government to demonstrate unwavering commitment to human rights, stop the use of draconian measures that curtail fundamental freedoms, and repeal repressive laws that are used to criminalize government critics”.

Another law that is increasingly criticised for its arbitrary and repressive use is the Printing Presses Publication Act, invoked to censor books and mass media, raid bookstores and cancel permits to publish or sell books deemed inappropriate.

The latest book seizures took place in August. Before that, in May police raided 16 shops selling Swatch 172 watches with a rainbow theme. Some observers believe the authorities saw the watches as promoting the LGBT community, which is against the law.

This is a further sign that the administration led by Anwar Ibrahim, whose political career was marred by serious legal troubles, seems unable to proceed with reforms to improve freedom and rights, perhaps to avoid pressure from conservative Muslims.