The Malaysian government’s plans to revoke or refuse to issue passports to critics is yet another demonstration of increasing intolerance in the country, Amnesty International has said.
Sakib Kusmi, the Immigration Department’s director-general, is quoted as saying that critics of the government could be denied the right to travel for three years.
“A travel ban on critics will mark a dangerous escalation in the government’s ongoing crackdown on dissent,” said Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s deputy director for South East Asia and the Pacific. “The right to freedom of speech is a key human right which the Malaysian people deserve to enjoy just like any other people.”
“In the last few years Prime Minister Najib Razak has continued to restrict freedom of expression, at times, even putting limitations on the free movement of individuals, and has detained a whole array of people, including human rights defenders, political activists and opposition politicians. This is giving rise to a climate of fear. The government’s plans will further shut down what is already an extremely limited space for civil society.”
“Far from living up to its promises to repeal repressive legislation, the Najib government has sought to arm itself with even greater powers to muzzle opinions it finds disagreeable. At the last elections in 2013, Najib promised to rid the country of the colonial-era sedition law. He has not only broken that commitment, but has put the crude and archaic laws to more frequent use than in the first fifty years of its existence.”
Hishamuddin Rais – a former prisoner of conscience – had his conviction under the Sedition Law upheld by the Appeals Court on 16 May 2016. Rais was sentenced to a fine of RM5,000 (US$1,237).
Last month, Haris Ibrahim, a prominent lawyer and human rights defender was convicted of sedition in a politically-motivated case. He is currently appealing the eight month jail sentence handed down to him.
In 2015 alone, Amnesty International recorded 91 cases where the Sedition Act was used to arrest, investigate or charge individuals in violation of their human rights.
Among those facing trial in Malaysia is the political cartoonist, Zunar, who faces nine counts of seditions and possible imprisonment for tweets criticising a Federal Court decision.
Earlier this month, Nurul Izzah Anwar, a political activist and the daughter of opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim was banned from entering Sarawak, the semi-autonomous state, ahead of elections there.