Promises of Legal Reforms Raise Hope in Malaysia

by EM News September 27, 2011
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced the repeal of two draconian security laws and promised to amend the strict media law. ARTICLE 19 welcomes the repeal of these laws but holds reservations on the proposed model. We also call for the repeal rather than amendment of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.

Article 19

The promise of legal reform was made on the eve of Malaysia Day. The controversial Internal Security Act (ISA) and the Emergency Ordinance (EO) will be replaced by two new laws “strictly for terrorism” similar to the ones drawn up in the United States and United Kingdom. Najib also assured that individuals will not be arrested for holding different political ideologies.

While welcoming the repeal, ARTICLE 19 is concerned with the reference to the UK anti-terrorism legislations which have been repeatedly criticised by ARTICLE 19 for criminalising the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression. ARTICLE 19 calls on the Malaysian government to ensure that the new anti-terrorism legislation meets international legal standards regarding the appropriate balance between national security and human rights protection, including freedom of expression.

In addition, the government has committed to a review of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA). However, the amendment is reportedly limited to the replacement of the requirement for annual renewals of media outlets with a one-off licensing policy. Yesterday, print media editors met with the Home Ministry to discuss the process of establishing a “self-regulatory” press council.

“Despite the relaxing of the media licensing requirement, the government still holds powers over the permits of all newspapers, printing presses and publications and can issue bans on media content. If the government is serious about respecting the right to freedom of expression, the PPPA should be repealed altogether, said Dr. Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19’s Executive Director.

“Whilst the news of political reform is a boost for freedom of expression in Malaysia, we are reminded of the recent heavy crackdown on peaceful demonstrators at the Bersih 2.0 rally who were calling for fair and clean elections. The government should demonstrate its commitment for change by releasing those who had been arrested for the peaceful expression of their views and thoroughly investigate the use of violence by the police against the Bersih demonstrators.” continued Dr. Callamard.

The widely criticised ISA and EO allow for detention without trial for up to two years and have been used to silence dissent and restrict freedom of expression. In July, six leaders from the opposition Parti Socialis Malaysia (PSM) were detained in association with their support for the Bersih 2.0 rally. The Printing Presses and Publications Act has also been used to suppress political opponents and to curtail freedom of expression in Malaysia.

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