Restrictions on freedom of assembly in Malaysia thoroughly discussed at the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council

By Émile Kinley-Gauthier, FORUM-ASIA

The report of Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, highlighted serious concerns on the crackdown on media in Malaysia. It stated that the Sedition Act of 1948 was used to arrest, detain and charge human rights defenders for exercising their lawful rights. FORUM-ASIA backed the concerns of the Special Rapporteur during the General Debate, linking the trend of one-party political systems to restrictions on freedom of assembly and association. In addition, FORUM-ASIA organised a side event to address the arbitrary restriction of movement of human rights activists who call for clean elections and denounce corruption within the government. The Special Rapporteur and Shashi Devan, a Malaysian human rights lawyer, were featured as panellists.

FORUM-ASIA also raised concerns with regard to freedom of expression in its statement delivered during the interactive dialogue with Special Rapporteur David Kaye. It denounced the proposed amendments to the Multimedia Act (1998) introducing harsher registration and licensing requirements for online news providers and enforcement of blocking of websites as a mean to further restrict freedom of expression online. The Malaysian delegation previously addressed the right to freedom of expression during the General Debate on the High Commissioner’s update. Anticipating criticism and attempting to justify the restriction of this right Malaysia called for a “responsible” exercise of freedom of expression. The delegation reiterated a similar argument during the interactive dialogue on racial discrimination and expressed concerns over the use of information and communication technology by racist and extremist groups.

Malaysia was fairly active throughout the session, delivering a plethora of statements. Notable amongst those was the support of the adoption of, fellow ASEAN member, Singapore’s UPR report in which Malaysia suggested the favourable consideration of the recommendation to establish a NHRI.

Malaysia did not sponsor any resolutions during the session. Instead it focused on the co-sponsorship of five resolutions on various themes: youth and human rights (A/HRC/32/L.1), right to food (A/HRC/32/L.15), the Social Forum (A/HRC/32/L.17), right to peace (A/HRC/32/L.18) and family and disabilities (A/HRC/32/L.35).