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Human rights in Malaysia

Amnesty International Report - May 2011

  • Background
  • Freedom of expression
  • Arbitrary arrests and detentions
  • Refugees and migrants
  • Torture and other ill-treatment
  • Death penalty
  • Head of state: King Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin
    Head of government: Najib Tun Razak
    Death penalty: retentionist
    Population: 27.9 million
    Life expectancy: 74.7 years
    Under-5 mortality (m/f): 12/10 per 1,000
    Adult literacy: 92.1 per cent

    The government restricted freedom of expression in electronic and print media. Detention without charge or trial continued as the Internal Security Act (ISA) entered its 50th year. Refugees, migrants and Malaysian nationals were subjected to judicial caning for criminal offences, including immigration violations. Under Shari'a law, three women were caned for the first time. Malaysia was elected to the UN Human Rights Council in May.


    Najib Tun Razak served his second year as Prime Minister after ousting Abdullah Badawi. He had until March 2013 to call parliamentary elections. The trial of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on politically motivated criminal charges of sodomy for the second time in 12 years continued. If convicted, Anwar Ibrahim faced imprisonment and a ban from political office for five years. In announcing a new multi-year economic policy in March, Najib Tun Razak called for the reform of Malaysia's positive discrimination policy which favours Bumiputeras (a legal status which comprises ethnic Malays and Indigenous people in eastern Malaysia).

    Freedom of expression

    The authorities restricted freedom of expression by requiring government licences for publications and imposing criminal penalties under the Sedition Act on those speaking out against the government.

    Arbitrary arrests and detentions Refugees and migrants

    The detention of refugees in Malaysia was "systematic", according to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which visited in June. In addition to detention for immigration offences, migrant workers commonly faced abusive labour conditions.

    Torture and other ill-treatment Death penalty

    Courts sentenced at least 114 people to "hang by the neck until dead", according to reports in the state-owned news agency Bernama and other Malaysian media. The authorities did not disclose the number of executions carried out.

    More than half of known death sentences were for possession of illegal drugs above certain specified quantities, an offence which carried the mandatory death penalty. Defendants in such cases faced charges of drug trafficking. Under the drug laws, they were presumed guilty unless they could prove their innocence, which contravened international fair trial standards.

    Citizens of other ASEAN nations accounted for one in six known death sentences. This included seven from Indonesia, three each from Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand, and two from the Philippines.

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