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Malaysia: End harassment of opposition MPs and activists

31/01/2022

Malaysia: End harassment of opposition MPs and activists

JAKARTA – Southeast Asian parliamentarians have urged Malaysian authorities to cease their reported harassment of opposition Members of Parliament (MPs), and allow them to fulfill their duties as representatives of the people after at least four lawmakers were called in for questioning by police in recent days regarding their involvement in anti-corruption rallies. 

On 28 January, MPs Maria Chin Abdullah and Fahmi Fadzil, both who are members of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), were summoned by police in Kuala Lumpur. The pair were called for questioning regarding their involvement in a protest held outside the country’s parliament building on 20 January, which called for the head of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to be suspended for alleged improper conduct in office. Two other MPs were also called for police questioning, alongside dozens of others, for their involvement in a separate anti-corruption rally on January 22.

“It is concerning that Malaysia is continuing on the path of using state machinery to harass and intimidate opposition voices, including MPs, as part of an attempt to silence them,” said Risa Hontiveros, a Philippines MP and APHR Member. “The government’s reaction to legitimate peaceful protests calling for accountability in public office should not be to harass those demonstrating, but instead investigate their concerns. Demanding accountability and answers for corruption allegations is crucial in a democracy, and authorities must not impede that.” 

At the 20 January demonstration, dozens of youth members of the opposition People’s Justice Party (PKR) gathered outside Parliament to submit a petition to Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, and House Speaker Azhar Harun, which included calls for the immediate suspension of MACC Chief Azam Baki. Baki has faced public scrutiny in recent weeks regarding excessive shares he allegedly owns in a public company. Critics say the shares risk compromising the integrity and credibility of the anti-corruption body.

The eight-point petition also called for a royal commission of inquiry to be conducted into his shareholding, amendments to the MACC Act to improve checks and balances, placing the Election Commission and Human Rights Commission of Malaysia under the control of parliament, and for improved protection of whistleblowers.

“We stand in solidarity with our fellow parliamentarians, and remind the Malaysian government that a police force should be used, not to harass and intimidate government critics, but to protect and respect the people’s right to protest and free speech. Authorities must immediately end these threats, and use the state apparatus to hold those in public office accountable to the people,” Hontiveros said.

With Malaysia recently dropping five places in Transparency International’s Corruption Index rating, there has been widespread public outcry demanding accountability for the MACC chief and for genuine institutional reforms to be implemented. A bigger demonstration, dubbed the #TangkapAzamBaki (Arrest Azam Baki) protest, saw an estimated 500 people gather in Kuala Lumpur on 22 January, with police shutting down roads in the capital and deploying anti-riot trucks. Following the protest, police reportedly “identified” more than 70 people involved in the rally, including MPs Teresa Kok and Maszlee Malik, both former cabinet ministers, who were later called for questioning.

In its annual report, Parliamentarians at Risk, published in late 2021, APHR found that legal harassment of opposition MPs in Malaysia had risen alarmingly alongside a wider crackdown on freedom of expression.

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ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) was founded in June 2013 with the objective of promoting democracy and human rights across Southeast Asia. Our founding members include many of the region's most progressive Members of Parliament (MPs), with a proven track record of human rights advocacy work.

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