by Nick Cumming-Bruce
New York Times
APRIL 9, 2015
GENEVA — The United Nations human rights chief on Thursday joined in criticism of the Malaysian government’s planned legislation on sedition and the prevention of terrorism, warning that both bills threatened to severely curtail freedom of opinion and expression and breach the country’s international obligations.
The government’s move to restore powers of indefinite detention without trial and without safeguards against abuse was among “serious shortcomings” in the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said in a statement.
The Malaysian authorities abolished indefinite detention powers in 2012 after years of criticism from human rights bodies, but the new measure allows the police to detain suspects for up to two years, renewable indefinitely, without trial or any form of judicial review.
The act passed Malaysia’s lower house of Parliament on Tuesday, a day after the police arrested 17 people for what they said was a plot to carry out terrorist attacks on police stations and army camps.
The government also plans to broaden the scope of its Sedition Act and impose harsher penalties on offenders, moves that would “make a bad law worse,” Mr. al-Hussein said, noting that the move would reverse a commitment to repeal the act that the government made to the United Nations Human Rights Council two years ago during a review of its human rights record.
The new measures were “particularly worrying” because the existing sedition law had been used in many instances to curb freedom of expression in Malaysia, he added, including through “arrests of individuals for merely tweeting their criticism of government policies and judicial decisions.”
The cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, known by the name Zunar, was charged with nine counts of sedition last week for posting messages on Twitter that criticized judges as “lackeys in black robes” over their decision to jail the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on charges of sodomy.
“Silencing dissent does not nurture social stability,” Mr. al-Hussein said. “Curtailing the legitimate exercise of human rights in the name of fighting terrorism has been shown, time and again, to backfire and to only lead to festering discontent and a strong sense of injustice.”
Prime Minister Najib Razak, facing growing political opposition, including from prominent members of his own party, has attracted sharp criticism from human rights advocates at home and abroad for measures seen as reneging on his earlier promises to liberalize Malaysian politics.
The Malaysian authorities investigated 78 people for sedition in 2014 and 36 others so far this year, the United Nations human rights office in Geneva said. The individuals investigated had not all faced prosecution, but “it’s a dagger hanging over them; it’s clearly an attempt to intimidate,” said Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the United Nations human rights office.