• Sheet of paper Report

Annual Report: Malaysia 2011

July 5, 2011

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.

  • In June, the Home Affairs Ministry suspended distribution of Suara Keadilan, the newspaper of the main opposition party, the People’s Justice Party (PKR), by refusing to renew the required licence for its publication. In July, the government restricted distribution of another opposition paper, Harakah, run by the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS).
  • The blogger Irwan Abdul Rahman, also known as Hassan Skodeng, was arrested in August after he posted a satire of the chairman of Malaysia’s largest utility company challenging an energy-conservation campaign. Irwan Abdul Rahman was released on bail and charged under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 with improper use of the internet by posting false or offensive content with malicious intent. If convicted, he faced up to one year in prison and a fine of 50,000 Malaysian ringgit (US$15,500).
  • The authorities pressured a Chinese-language radio station to sack host Jamaluddin Ibrahim after his programme criticized the government’s positive discrimination policy. In August, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission sent a letter to the station, reportedly alleging that the programme threatened national security and compromised race relations.
  • Police arrested political cartoonist Zunar in September before the launch of his book Cartoon-o-phobia and confiscated copies. He was charged under the Sedition Act and faced up to three years in prison. In June, the Home Affairs Ministry banned three of the cartoonist’s earlier books and magazines as being “detrimental to public order” under the Printing Press and Publications Act 1984. Under this law, printing and distributing these cartoons were punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment or fines of up to 20,000 Malaysian ringgit (US$6,200). Zunar was released on bail.

Arbitrary arrests and detentions

  • In January, police raided a private Islamic religious class near Kuala Lumpur, and detained 50 people under the ISA. Most of the detainees were soon released, but the government summarily deported several of the foreign detainees to countries, including Syria, where they faced risk of torture for suspected involvement in political Islamic groups.
  • At a peaceful protest in August marking the ISA’s 50th anniversary, police arrested 30 out of an estimated 300 demonstrators in Petaling Jaya town. All those detained were subsequently released. Malaysian law severely restricts public protest and freedom of assembly by banning public gatherings of more than five people without a permit.
  • In July, Mohamad Fadzullah Bin Abdul Razak, a Malaysian national aged 28, was arrested under the ISA upon his return from Thailand. The government alleged that he was involved in an international terrorist network. The authorities gave him a two-year detention order under the ISA, which provides for indefinite detention without charge or trial.

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.

  • In August, the government announced that it would nearly double the size of RELA (Ikatan Relawan Rakyat), a civilian-volunteer force which used its policing power to arrest migrants and refugees for immigration offences. RELA officers often extorted money from migrants and refugees, and sometimes beat them. The government also reinstated RELA officers in immigration detention facilities, after withdrawing them in 2009.
  • Conditions in immigration detention centres remained poor. In response to a recurrent lack of water at the Lenggeng Immigration Detention Centre, an estimated 500 Burmese asylum-seekers protested in June by going on hunger strike.
  • In October, seven immigration officers and two foreign nationals were reportedly arrested for alleged involvement in human trafficking. However, no criminal procedures were initiated; instead they were detained without trial under the ISA.

Torture and other ill-treatment

  • The authorities regularly caned people for a host of offences, including immigration violations. Caning was provided for more than 60 criminal offences. In one week alone, scores of migrant workers were deported to Indonesia after being caned for immigration offences.
  • In February, three women were caned, for the first time in Malaysia’s history. The women, all Muslims, were convicted of extramarital sex and caned under Shari’a provisions, near Kuala Lumpur. In April, the first woman sentenced to caning, Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, had her 2009 sentence of six strokes commuted to community service.

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.