Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) participated in the 31st Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council. It is being held until March 24 in Geneva, Switzerland.
SUARAM Executive Director Sevan Doraisamy delivered an oral statement on behalf of Persatuan Alisan Kesedaran Negara (Aliran) during the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur Mr. Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders on 4th March 2016. Sevan spoke extensively about the Malaysian government’s usage of the Sedition Act 1948.
1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) and Goldman Sachs
The New York Post published an article entitled “FBI Gathers Clues In Massive Goldman Sachs Money Scandal” on 20th February 2016. The article stated that US law enforcement officials are gathering sensitive documents and identifying potential witnesses from around the world in Goldman Sachs’ involvement with 1MDB.
Goldman Sachs is an American investment banking firm that engages in global investment banking, securities, investment management and other financial services, primarily with institutional clients.
It has been reported that “exorbitant” fees for transactions were charged by Goldman Sachs. This resulted in an international money-laundering probe by law enforce-ment agencies. Investigations show that there were breaches of international and domestic laws ranging from the Patriot Act to the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act.
Final 1MDB Report Delayed to First Week of March
The final auditor-general’s report on 1MDB was scheduled to be tabled on 24th and 25th February 2016. However, in a statement on the morning of 23rd February, Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman Datuk Hasan Arifin stated that the report will be tabled in the first week of March instead. This is because most PAC members were overseas to perform the umrah (minor pilgrimage) and attending to important commitments.
Enough Credible Evidence to Charge Najib Over SRC, Says MACC Oversight Committee
The Operations Review Panel has advised the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to resubmit two investigation papers on SRC International Sdn Bhd to the Attorney General.
SRC International Sdn Bhd is an anonymous-sounding company owned by the Malaysian Ministry of Finance.
A panel member said that the panel was influential and could review investigation papers classified as “delayed” and “no further action”. The panel member who was speaking on condition of anonymity went on to say that the MACC investigators had collected sufficient evidence to prove a prima facie case against Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The panel ended its tenure on 25th February 2016 as the members did not receive extension letters after their one-year term ended. At its final meeting on 24th December 2016, the panel was briefed on the latest developments in the probe into SRC International and the RM2.6 billion political donation in Najib’s personal bank accounts.
Sarawak Chief Minister Claims 1MDB Scandal has no Great Impact on State Election
According to Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem, the 1MDB fiasco and RM2.6 billion political donation may be hot issues in Peninsular Malaysia, but they have nothing to do with Sarawak. He added that these issues would not have any significant impact on the upcoming Sarawak state election. He went on to claim that Chinese voters will return to Barisan Nasional, though he was unsure of the magnitude.
Government Lost Bid to Claim Damages from Bersih 2.0 over Bersih 3 Rally
On 30th January 2016, The Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled that Bersih 2.0 was not liable for property damage during the sit-in Bersih 3 protest on 28th April 2016.
In his decision, High Court judge Datuk John Louis O’Hara said that although the Peaceful Assembly Act is constitutional, the Bersih 2.0 steering committee was not responsible for the damages caused. He dismissed the government’s claim for RM110,543.27 in property damages as the “acts and omissions of the cops invariably contributed and resulted in the damage.” He went on to say that “the damages that occurred only happened after the first defendant had called off the rally”, referring to Bersih 2.0 former chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenivasan.
Former steering committee member, Dr Wong Chin Huat was awarded RM21,000 in damages for unlawful arrest, detention and assault during the rally. He was also awarded RM30,000 in costs.
High Court Upholds Home Ministry Ban on Bersih 4 T-shirts
On 19th February 2016, the Shah Alam High Court ruled that the home minister has the right to declare Bersih 4 t-shirts and related printed matter illegal under the law. Judge Datuk Mohd Yazid Mustafa said that the minister had the power under Section 7 of the Printing Presses and Publications Act
The minister had issued the ban on 27th August 2015, a few days before the Bersih 4 rally on 29th and 30th August. Judge Yazid said that the minister had the discretion to make such decisions on the basis of preserving the peace in a multi-racial country. He was of the opinion that the minister had justified his power in exercising the order and had taken the relevant consideration in making the said order.
Bersih 2.0 will challenge the High Court decision, said its chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah. “I don’t know where they got the idea we are a national security threat,” she said. “The t-shirts have now become a symbol of our struggle for democracy and human rights in Malaysia.”
Government Blocks The Malaysian Insider
The Malaysian Insider news portal has been blocked by the Multimedia Communications and Multimedia commission (MCMC) since 25th February 2016. Those who tried to access the site were shown the official MCMC page for a blocked site, with the message saying the website was barred because “it violated national laws”.
According to the notice, The Malaysian Insider had violated Section 233 of the Act, which deals with improper use of network facilities or network service.
The MCMC stated in a statement that the ban was imposed following “public complaints” and reminded news portals not to publish unverified reports as “this could invite confusion and cause unwanted situations.”
GLOBAL BERSIH UPDATES
Bersih NL Now an Official NGO
Bersih Network Netherlands (Bersih NL) is a member of the Dutch chamber of commerce. The Bersih NL board consists of Chairperson P. S W. Shieng, Secretary P. C. P van Dam and Treasurer J. S. Jorritsma.
Bersih NL organized a Chinese New Year gathering on 21st February 2016 in Utrecht. The event was attended by its members, Global Bersih (GB) secretary Bala Chelliah, guests and friends. Attendees got to know one another and caught up with events and developments in Malaysia. Bala briefed attendees on GB’s objectives and touched on Bersih NL’s own objectives. He also stated that Malaysians overseas can play an important role to support the movement for change in Malaysia.
Bersih NL will be organizing future events, including social activities to connect like-minded Malaysians in the Netherlands, promote sale of Bersih NL t-shirts to raise funds to cover expenses incurred, and hold talks/seminars on democracy in Malaysia to create awareness and raise consciousness.
Malaysians and friends of Malaysia in the Netherlands may sign up as a member of Bersih NL by sending an email to: email@example.com.
Less than a week to the Bersih 4 Rally last year on August 29/30th, the Home Ministry banned Bersih 4 yellow t-shirts. Bersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah immediately filed a judicial review application against the ministry’s action but on February 19th 2016, the High Court of Shah Alam has set aside Bersih 2.0’s challenge on the ban of Bersih 4 t-shirts.
Global Bersih stands in solidarity with Bersih 2.0 and strongly disagrees with the High Court’s decision. Despite the ban, Malaysians and friends of Malaysia all over the world, clad in the banned t-shirts came out in unprecedented large numbers to the streets to exercise their right to freedom of assembly and expression. This ban interferes with the fundamental right to freedom of expression.
Global Bersih supports Bersih 2.0’s upcoming appeal to the High Court’s decision. We strongly urge the Court of Appeal to reverse the High Court’s ruling and to uphold the fundamental political and civil rights of Malaysians.
For more information, please contact Global Bersih at: contact@GlobalBersih.org +++
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Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem announced the proposed dates for the Sarawak state election. He said that he had met the Election Commission (EC) and set the proposed dates of 18th April 2016 as nomination day and 30th April 2016 for polling. The following day, May 1st is a public holiday.
The EC estimated that the election will cost RM181 million, with a large portion going towards transportation and rental costs. This figure is more than double the cost incurred to run the 2011 state election for which the EC spent RM78 million. As there has been an increase of 11 state seats (to 82 seats), the EC has to rent ’38 helicopters to send ballot boxes, papers and officers and to bring them out of remote areas, which is only accessible via air. This alone will cost RM33.4 million’.
Ong Kian Ming, a Democratic Action Party member of Parliament, requested that the EC should allow Sarawakians living and working outside the state to their cast votes as postal voters in the state election. As with to the 13th general election, their votes can be considered as postal votes and returned to their respective constituencies to be counted on polling day itself. This is not a new recommendation, as the parliamentary select committee on electoral reform listed this as one of their recommendations in its final report.
In its 21st January 2016 media statement, Bersih, along with the Malaysian Electoral Roll Analysis Project (MERAP) were shocked by the results of further analyses of the re-delineation exercise in Sarawak. MERAP found that:
Based on the voting trends observed in the 13th General Election, Barisan Nasional (BN) has a strong chance of winning 9 out of the 11 new state assembly seats created by the re-delineation exercise.
Where BN-friendly seats have been created, the average size of the constituency would shrink between 25% and 47%.
There has been a worsening imbalance in the number of voters in each state assembly seat, making a mockery of the ‘one person, one vote, one value’ principle.
The delineation exercise runs counter to the 13th Schedule of the Federal Constitution by ignoring Section 2(c), which requires that all constituencies in the same state should be approximately equal in voter size. This delineation exercise appeared to have given undue regard and weight to political considerations in drawing constituency boundaries, which is not a specified condition under Section 2. The exercise also failed to provide adequate information to affected voters as required under Section 4(a).
New EC Chairman appointed
Effective from 24th January 2016, former EC deputy chairman Datuk Seri Mohd Hashim has replaced Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof as EC chairman, when the latter’s term of office expired upon his reaching 66 years of age. This is in accordance with Clause 3 Article 114 of the Federal Constitution. Mohd Hashim, who holds a Master’s degree in political science from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and began his career in the civil service as an administrative officer with the Kuala Lumpur City Hall in 1980.
Bersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah stated that Mohd Hashim’s main task should be to win back public confidence before the Sarawak state election this year, due to the organisation’s poor reputation. She pointed out that 38% of Sarawak’s electoral roll had no full address. Maria suggested that Mohd Hashim should invite all political parties and NGOs to develop a roadmap to electoral reform, which includes the changes to ‘laws, procedures and finally putting the action to practice for a fair and free election.
Mohd Hashim later on announced in his first ever press conference that he will engage with citizens groups, including Bersih 2.0. He urged critics to allow the EC to “do our jobs” and insisted that the commission has maintained a clean track record despite multiple allegations.
Indonesian activist scheduled to speak at a Bersih 2.0 forum deported
Mugiyanto Sipin, an activist during Indonesia’s 1997 reformasi and organizer of student protests which led to the downfall of Suharto’s regime was to speak at Bersih 2.0’s Yellow Mania Festival on the evening of 7th January 2016. When he arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 that afternoon, in which he was detained by Malaysian Immigration officials for allegedly trying to “interfere in local politics” and was sent home immediately. However, the forum went on as planned, with its guest speaker participating through Skype instead.
The deputy director of Amnesty International, Josef Roy Benedict, lambasted Mugiyanto’s detention and deportation as a violation of “the rights to freedom of expression, and to receive and impart information – rights guaranteed under international laws and standards.”
KL Mayor said opposition will win if local elections held
Kuala Lumpur (KL) mayor Datuk Mohd Amin Nordin Abdul Aziz told the radio station BFM’s The Breakfast Grill host Sharaad Kuttan that if there were to be local elections, the post of KL mayor will likely be held by a member of the opposition and this would cause a disarray between the federal and the state governments. He stated that as the capital city, KL needs to be governed directly by the federal government to ease the implementation of policies and projects in terms of development, economy and economic activities. “In order to administer KL, you have to work with the minister. The minister makes the policy, the mayor executes. If the mayor cannot execute what the minister has asked him to do, then there will be haywire in terms of administration,” Amin said.
AG declares no charges against PM
Alter studying the investigations carried out by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Attorney-General (A-G) Mohamed Apandi Ali declared that he was satisfied that there are no grounds for action against prime minister Najib Razak. The A-G has instructed that the investigations into the purported RM2.6 billion political donations and RM42 million from SRC International transferred into Najib’s personal bank accounts to be closed. SRC is a former subsidiary of the prime minister’s debt-laden brainchild 1Malaysia Development Berhad.
Former Bersih 2.0 chairman and prominent lawyer Ambiga Sreenivasan said that Apandi must disclose more information about the investigations as it involves a public figure and government money.
“Going by the A-G’s statement, I don’t understand how this issue of returning the money arose, how donations with a presumption of corruption, how that presumption is displaced,” Ambiga said. “People don’t give that much money for nothing. That is not clear to me. That’s against human nature. How do you reasonably explain that a person who donated RM2.6 billion wanted nothing in return? That means there must be overwhelming evidence to show that they gave it for nothing,”
GLOBAL BERSIH CALLS ON MALAYSIAN SENATORS TO REJECT NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL BILL 2015
Global Bersih notes with very great concern the passage of the National Security Council Bill by Malaysia’s Dewan Rakyat on 3 December; condemns the unseemly haste and lack of due process with which this was done; and calls on the 66 senators of the Dewan Negara – as well as the Yang di-Pertuan Agung – to reject this bill in order to safeguard the fundamental liberties of the Malaysian people.
Global Bersih strongly supports the #taknakdiktator public campaign launched on 8 December by seven civil society organizations – including Bersih 2.0 – calling on the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong and the Dewan Negara to engage in the symbolic act of rejecting this Bill, despite the fact their powers have been severely curtailed by constitutional amendments. The NGOs have called for the YDP Agong to “refuse his assent to the NSC Bill. While constitutional amendments prevent him from rejecting it outright, his refusal to assent would send a clear signal that the Bill is fundamentally flawed and should be done away with.”
The Bill in question establishes a new statutory body with wide-ranging powers called the National Security Council (“NSC”), chaired by the Prime Minister and composed of key members of the executive who are all appointed by, and report directly to the Prime Minister.
The powers of the NSC, “the Government’s central authority for considering matters concerning national security” (Clause 3), include that to “control” and “issue directives” to any Federal or State government agency on operations or matters concerning national security (Clauses 2 and 5), and to advise the Prime Minister to declare any area in Malaysia as a “security area”.
Within a security area, the NSC is empowered to deploy security forces (Clause 19), who “may use such force against persons and things as is reasonable and necessary…to preserve national security” (Clause 34), arrest individuals without warrants, stop and search individuals, enter and search any premises, and take possession of land, building or movable property (Clauses 25 to 30).
Further, the NSC has legal immunity “in respect of any act, neglect or default done or omitted by it or him in good faith, in such capacity” (Clause 38). Despite the grave and far-reaching implications of this Bill, numerous key terms such as “national security”, “reasonable and necessary” and “in good faith” are not defined in any concrete form.
While the bill will now be presented to the Dewan Negara, under Mahathir-era constitutional amendments, if not passed, the Bill can nevertheless be presented a second time to the Dewan Rakyat after a year. A month after the hypothetical second passage by the Dewan Rakyat, the Bill goes to the Yang di-Pertuan Agung regardless of the decision of the Dewan Negara, and becomes law a month after this, regardless of the Yang di-Pertuan Agung’s decision.
As the state of civil liberties continues on a downward spiral in Malaysia, the Malaysian diaspora will have a proportionally greater role and responsibility for the future of the country we love. The present state of affairs, in which the voices and interests of the Malaysian people can be easily and are routinely ignored, highlights the urgent need for deep institutional reforms, including the electoral reforms continuously called for by Bersih 2.0 and Global Bersih.
For more information please do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Bersih 2.0 chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah pleaded not guilty to a charge that claims that she had not given notice to the authorities for organizing the Bersih 4 rally. The trial is set to commence on December 11. This follows the Court of Appeals’ verdict that giving notice to authorities is considered mandatory in the constitution, despite a previous ruling that contested otherwise.
A challenge filed by Bersih 2.0 against the Home Ministry’s gazette banning Bersih t-shirts and other materials a few days before the August 29 rally, prompted the court to urge the Home Ministry to respond by submitting its defense. In the application, Bersih 2.0 said the gazette has branded thousands of Malaysians participating in the rally as criminals; such an order was unreasonable, illegal and made in bad faith.
Notable Local News
The Sarawak constituency redelineation exercise will proceed after Parliament agreed to allow the Election Commission to continue its redelineation exercise in the state. A total of 130 MPs voted for the exercise and 72 MPs against. Sepang MP, Mohamed Hanipa Maidin, said that since the High Court and the Court of Appeal had differed in their ruling on the matter, the Federal Court should make a decision on it. Minister in the Prime Minister’s department, Nancy Shukri, however refused to comment.
Bridget Welsh, a political analyst, published an interesting analysis about Najib’s leadership in the New Mandala website. She explained that while Najib’s current course of action may result in short term gains, his decisions may inflict long term damage to the UMNO party, the Barisan Nasional coalition and the country.
International Bodies Condemn Malaysia’s Human Rights Situation
The human rights situation in Malaysia has been gaining increasing attention on the international front. The International Commission of Jurists, in an open letter to Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, called for investigations against Maria Chin Abdullah and other organizers of Bersih 4 to be dropped. The body also urged the Malaysian government to amend the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 to ensure that the rights of all Malaysians to participate in peaceful assemblies are protected.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that the detention of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim was arbitrary, that he was denied a fair trial, and that he was jailed for political reasons. The working group urged the Malaysian government to release Anwar immediately, and ensure that his political rights are reinstated; this was according to a copy of the opinion released by his family.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also criticized the Malaysian authorities for attacking their critics even as they were playing host to several high profile summits, including meetings with the United States President, Barack Obama. “Exposure of corruption and criticism of the government are essential elements of a rights-respecting democracy,” HRW Asia advocacy director John Sifton said.
Continued Highlights of Malaysian Cartoonist
Malaysian cartoonist, Zulkiflee Anwar Alhaque, popularly known as Zunar, has been traveling all over the globe. He was in New York to accept the 2015 International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists – the first ever cartoonist to do so. Zunar was able to highlight his case in New York and Australia; he informed his audience that once he returns to Malaysian soil, he will be facing several sedition charges that could result in him spending a possible 43 years in prison.
Making a Mark Through Activism
Global Bersih has opened up yet another chapter, with the official launch of Bersih Netherlands. It was opened with the aim of bringing electoral awareness to Malaysians based there. Bersih Netherlands would like to create a platform for Malaysians from all walks of life in the Netherlands, and for them to be informed of the social, political and economic situation in Malaysia. Read more about their formation here.
Four Malaysian students who joined the Global Bersih movement in Perth have shared their experiences participating in civil movements overseas. They will return home with more political knowledge and be able to better embrace democratic ideals. “Here in Australia, I have learned about real freedom,” said student Zafri Zulkifli. “One has freedom to talk about everything”.
October was Budget month, the annual government document that plans the coming financial year. At a time of growing global economic uncertainty, the 2016 Budget is a critical part in explaining (or not) how Malaysia survives the downturn in oil, gas and commodity prices as debt rises.
But October was also witness to attacks on Malaysia’s freedom of expression, free speech, and a crackdown on activists.
Law professor Azmi Sharom’s challenge against the Sedition Act – calling for the Act to be ruled unconstitutional – was thrown out when the Federal Court disagreed. The judges ruled that the Sedition Act was constitutional, legally implemented during colonial times, and was modified to bring the Act in line with the Federal Constitution. According to the judges’ comments, all current Sedition Act cases faced by academics, activists and politicians are now back in full swing.
This includes cartoonist Zunar’s trial, expected to start in November, and Prof Azmi’s charge – over a comment he made in a public forum about the Perak royalty’s role in the state’s Mentri Besar crisis – will be heard at his trial.
There are also those charged this month under the Sedition Act, such as political activist Khalid Ismath on 13 October with 14 counts under the Act for posting comments on social media that were allegedly offensive to the Johor royalty. Khalid was initially denied bail, following a previous case when someone charged for a similar alleged offence fled the country after bail was granted. On 29 October, Khalid was granted an interim bail of RM70, 000 and had to surrender his passport.
Rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticised the move, pointing out that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has repeatedly broken promises to revise laws that hinder peaceful dissent. Instead, the Najib government has gone on a binge prosecuting its critics.
“The government is making a mockery of its claims to democracy and fundamental rights by treating criticism as a crime,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director. But minister Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim refuted the HRW argument and said it was within PM Najib’s jurisdiction to take such actions.
Others caught in the crackdown are lawyer Matthias Chang, who allegedly worked with Khairuddin Abu Bakar in filing multiple legal suits against 1Malaysia Development Berhad in several countries. They were arrested under the Securty Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma) and both were denied bail, with their case to be heard on November 5.
Bersih 2.0 also criticised the authorities for charging its Sabah vice-chairperson Jannie Lasimbang under the Public Assembly Act for her involvement in the Bersih 4 rally. This follows a new Court of Appeal ruling that section 9(5) of the Act was constitutional, which means rally organisers who failed to notify the police 10 days before the rally can be charged in court.
Bersih 2.0 continues to pressure the Najib government to come clean, first by making its accounts public and declaring their donations (which amounted to RM2.6 million, with RM664,052 spent on the Bersih 4 rally, leaving a RM1.9 million balance), and by challenging the Prime Minister to reveal the true amount in his personal bank account.
Bersih 2.0 also obtained leave at the High Court to challenge the Home Minister’s gazetting of the ban on yellow t-shirts and other printed materials, which was released two days before the Bersih 4 rally on 29-30 August. Bersih 2.0 also launched a no-confidence vote campaign among the public to pressure their MPs to support such a motion in Federal Parliament.
Unfortunately, Bersih 2.0’s Sarawak court challenge against the Malaysian Election Commission’s (SPRM) redelineation exercise has come to an end. The Federal Court refused Batu Lintang assemblyman See Chee How’s leave on grounds that the matter is now academic.