Malaysia: Next government must prioritise human rights as country prepares to vote

Malaysia’s next government must put human rights at the heart of its policies and avoid the repressive tactics that have marked the build-up to the general election on Wednesday (9 May), Amnesty International said ahead of polling day.

In the run-up to elections, the current Malaysian government passed a new “anti-fake news” law apparently designed to stifle debate online, not least with a definition of “fake news” so vague that it could encompass virtually any criticism of the authorities, with those found guilty facing up to six years in prison.

Amnesty has published a Human Rights Agenda for the country ahead of the vote, outlining eight key human rights issues that parliamentary candidates and those elected to the next government must prioritise. These include the rights to freedom of expression and association, better protections for refugees and people seeking asylum, and abolishing the death penalty.

Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Amnesty International’s Malaysia Researcher, said:

“As Malaysians head to the polls, they will do so in a country where the space for freedom of expression has shrunk alarmingly in recent years.

“Predictably, the authorities have placed arbitrary restrictions on the opposition, media and rights defenders leading up to the vote. Malaysians deserve a country where their rights are defended and upheld, not increasingly restricted at every turn.

“Our Agenda sets out a concrete action plan to improve the human rights situation in Malaysia. The next government will have an opportunity to turn Malaysia into a real leader on rights in Southeast Asia as a whole - this opportunity should not be missed. A very first step should be to repeal the 1948 Sedition Act and the Anti-Fake News Act.

“Regardless of who wins the vote this Wednesday, the next government must usher in a new era of respect for human rights.”

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