(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - On the eve of President Obama's visit to Malaysia, Amnesty International USA urges him to publicly address the deteriorating human rights situation in the country.
The President must send a clear message to the Malaysian authorities that increasing restrictions on free speech and ongoing human rights violations by the police are unacceptable and incompatible with the country's human rights obligations.
"President Obama's visit to Malaysia - the first of a U.S. President in almost 50 years - offers a crucial opportunity to push the authorities on much needed human rights reforms," said T. Kumar, Director of International Advocacy, Amnesty International USA.
A series of recent developments demonstrate the increasingly restrictive space in which civil society, human rights defenders and opposition politicians can operate in Malaysia.
In March this year, a court in Malaysia overturned the acquittal of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on politically motivated "sodomy" charges. The authorities have consistently harassed him for years, in a blatant attempt to silence one of the opposition's most important voices.
In another case, human rights defender Lena Hendry is facing politically motivated charges as a result of her legitimate work. She was arrested on July 3, 2013 and subsequently charged under the Film Censorship Act 2002 for screening a documentary about alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka.
In January 2014, the government declared illegal the civil society grouping COMANGO - a coalition of Malaysian non-governmental organizations formed to raise human rights concerns at the United Nations.
"Human rights in Malaysia are increasingly coming under attack, and President Obama must speak out on behalf of all those whose voices are being silenced by the Malaysian authorities," continued Kumar.
President Obama should demand the repeal or else amendment of the range of laws used by the Malaysian authorities to arrest and imprison activists and human rights defenders and to curtail free speech. These include the notorious Sedition Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Printing Press and Publications Act and the Peaceful Assembly Act.
Amnesty International USA also urges President Obama to highlight continuing human rights violations committed by the Malaysian police. There are ongoing reports of torture, other ill-treatment and deaths in police custody, fatal shootings and excessive use of force and firearms. Many such allegations are not adequately investigated and suspected perpetrators are rarely held to account, creating a climate of impunity which perpetuates further violations.
"President Obama should tell Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak that enough is enough - Malaysia's human rights record must improve," said Kumar.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million members in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.