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Annual Report 2013: Malaysia

Amnesty International - May 23, 2013

Head of state: King Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah
Head of government: Najib Tun Razak

Colonial-era laws which had allowed for arbitrary detention and restricted freedom of expression were replaced with new legislation which nonetheless failed to meet international human rights standards. Peaceful protesters calling for electoral reform encountered police abuses and mass arrests. At least 14 people continued to be detained without trial under the Internal Security Act.


Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s coalition and the parliamentary opposition prepared for elections, which the Prime Minister was required to call by March 2013. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who faced imprisonment and a five-year ban from office on politically motivated charges of sodomy, was acquitted in January 2012.

Freedom of expression

The government announced in July that it would repeal the 1948 Sedition Act, which had been used to quash dissent, but the proposed National Harmony Act contained new restrictions on freedom of expression. Under Section 114A of the Evidence Act, an amendment which came into force in July, people who operated internet hosting services or websites open to public contributors (such as online forums) became liable for any offending content published through these services.

Freedom of assembly

The state harassed civil society organizations critical of the authorities. Although the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 removed requirements for police permits for public assemblies, it allowed for them to be banned as “street protests”.

Excessive use of force

Police used excessive force against peaceful protesters. The authorities rejected renewed calls to set up the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC), as recommended by the 2005 Royal Commission on Policing.

Arbitrary arrests and detentions

The government repealed the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allowed for indefinite detention without charge or trial, and replaced it with the new Security Offences (Special Measures) Act in July. Under it, the police were allowed to detain suspects incommunicado for 48 hours, and for up to 28 days without charge or judicial review.

Refugees and migrants

Refugees were subjected to systematic detention, and migrant workers faced labour abuses. In June, Indonesia ended a two-year ban on sending migrant domestic workers to Malaysia, following abuses against domestic workers there.

Death penalty

At least 860 prisoners were on death row at the end of February, according to the Prisons Department. The authorities did not disclose the number of executions carried out in 2012.

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