Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, February 26, 1999.
Malaysia is a federation of 13 states with a parliamentary system of government based on periodic multiparty elections in which the ruling National Front coalition has held power since 1957. Opposition parties actively contest elections, but face obstacles in competing with the long-entrenched ruling coalition. Opposition and independent members hold roughly 12 percent of the seats in the Federal Parliament. An opposition party controls one state government. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, government action, constitutional amendments, and legislation have undermined judicial independence and increased executive influence. The impartiality of the judiciary continued to deteriorate.
The Royal Malaysian Police have primary responsibility for internal security matters. The police report to and are under the effective control of the Minister of Home Affairs. At year‚s end, the Prime Minister held the Home Affairs portfolio. Some members of the police committed serious human rights abuses.
Malaysia is an advanced developing country. Although the economy is largely market-based, the Government takes an active role in economic development and industrialization, and maintains price controls on certain basic commodities. Manufacturing accounts for 44.2 percent, services 44.8 percent, and agriculture 11 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Principal manufactured products include semiconductors, consumer electronics, electrical products, textiles, and apparel. Palm oil exports and production of natural rubber, cocoa, and tropical timber also are significant. Per capita GDP in 1997 was approximately $4,431. Anticipating increasing unemployment as a result of the economic downturn, the Government has indicated that it plans to repatriate or redeploy an estimated 2 million foreign unskilled workers--one-quarter of the labor force.
The Government's previous record of respect for the human rights of its citizens worsened in a number of areas. In a late March mass deportation of Indonesian illegal alien detainees, police used excessive force, resulting in a number of deaths and injuries. Some detainees injured in the deportation did not receive medical care. Police killed roughly 80 suspects in the course of apprehension, some under questionable circumstances. Police on occasion tortured, beat, and otherwise abused suspects, detainees, and ordinary citizens. Poor conditions of detention posed a serious threat to the life and health of illegal alien detainees. Police continued to arrest and detain many persons without trial, including former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and a number of his allies. (Anwar subsequently was charged and is on trial; his associates were released.) Police beat Anwar while he was in detention. Prolonged pretrial detention is a problem. A prominent opposition party leader was imprisoned on questionable sedition and publications charges. The judiciary refused to stay a libel suit against a United Nations special rapporteur, despite the U.N.‚s assertion of the rapporteur‚s immunity and referral of the matter to the International Court of Justice. The trial of a prominent human rights activist on charges arising from her criticisms of conditions in alien detention camps continued. A Western journalist continued to appeal a 1997 conviction for contempt of court stemming from an article that raised questions of possible judicial favoritism. These cases and other factors led to serious doubts over the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. Authorities infringed on citizens‚ privacy rights. Harsh government statements about critics and police threats of possible detention or investigation stifled freedom of expression. Government pressure and intimidation led to a high degree of press self-censorship. The editors in chief of two of the country‚s leading dailies and a television operations director were removed, apparently because of government pressure. The Government attacked the foreign press for its allegedly biased reporting on Malaysia. A government crackdown on opposition meetings and on demonstrations at which citizens called for political reform restricted freedom of assembly. The Government continued to restrict freedom of association. Religious freedom is subject to some restrictions, in particular the right of Muslims to practice beliefs other than Sunni Islam. The right of Muslims to change their religion faced many practical obstacles. The Government continued to impose long-term restrictions on movement without due process hearings. Government restrictions prevent opposition parties from competing effectively with the ruling coalition. Nongovernmental organizations (NGO‚s) came under increasing criticism from senior government officials, who ascribed seditious or treasonous motives to NGO critics. The Government also amended legislation in order to facilitate the disbandment of NGO‚s. Societal discrimination and violence against women, and sexual abuse of children remain problems. Malaysia is a source, destination, and transit country for the trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation. Longstanding policies give preferential status to the ethnic Malays and other indigenous people in business, education, and other areas. Some discrimination against indigenous people and ethnic minorities, and some restrictions on worker rights persisted. Child labor persists, although the Government has taken vigorous action against it.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political killings. However, police committed a number of extrajudicial killings.
On March 26, riot police conducted a mass deportation of Indonesian illegal alien detainees (see Section 2.d.). At the Semenyih detention camp, detainees from the Indonesian province of Aceh violently resisted deportation and killed a police officer in the ensuing struggle. After the death of the police officer, police responded with force and killed an unknown number of detainees (Police stated that 8 detainees died, while NGO‚s and the Western press reported that the number of dead was at least 24). A leaked police photograph that appeared in the Western press showed that some of the dead persons were handcuffed. It is not known when the handcuffs were placed on these persons. Press reports from Indonesia indicated that a large number of Acehnese injured during the rioting in Malaysian detention camps, including some with gunshot wounds or injuries from severe beatings, did not receive medical care before their deportation. Police have denied any misconduct and are not investigating officers' actions during the riot. (The police did investigate the leak to the Western press of the photograph showing handcuffed victims, and prosecuted the police photographer responsible.) After the violence, the Deputy Home Affairs Minister stated that security personnel would no longer treat illegal aliens "softly."
The press reported that police killed approximately 80 alleged criminals in the course of apprehension during the year. Some of these killings appeared to be justified; but others were hard to explain based on public reports. For example, on January 28, police shot and killed a group of seven suspects (with none wounded) in two cars who allegedly were planning to rob a supermarket. On March 21, police shot and killed three suspected kidnapers (with none wounded) in a car while the victim, in the same car, was unharmed (a fourth suspect was shot and killed separately). Relatives of one of the alleged kidnapers claimed that the deceased had been an acquaintance of the victim and that police had shot the wrong man. On October 3, police killed five alleged kidnapers in a house, including a woman who was 8 months pregnant. On October 4, police shot and killed six men in a van who allegedly were involved in the smuggling of drugs and firearms. The leader of the ethnically Indian political party called on the police to conduct a thorough inquiry into the last two shootings and questioned whether suspects had been given a chance to surrender or explain. In the March kidnaping case, police investigated and found no misconduct. None of the other cases are known to be under investigation.
After approximately 40 police lethal shootings from January to March, the president of a prominent Malaysian human rights organization in an April press article questioned whether police had become too "trigger-happy" and were acting as "judge, jury, and executioner." He called for the establishment of a mechanism to review each use of lethal force by police. The Prime Minister called the charge of police being trigger-happy "grossly unfair," and the Inspector General of Police stated that the human rights group was trying "to protect criminals." Subsequently, a police official said that if criticism by an NGO "causes people to lose confidence in the police or question the law," police would investigate the NGO under the Societies Act (see Section 2.b.). Following the April article, lethal police shootings sharply decreased for several months. Later in the year, after the controversy surrounding the lethal shootings of a total of 11 suspects on October 3-4, the number of incidents again dropped steeply. The police have not accepted the suggestion to establish a mechanism to review the use of lethal force.
There were numerous allegations that inhuman conditions of detention caused the deaths of illegal aliens (see Section 1.c.).
In July four soldiers who beat to death an illegal alien during a June 1997 raid were acquitted of charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The Prime Minister said in August, that several officers of the police field force would be disciplined for their conduct during a conflict in Bakong, Sarawak that led to an Iban village chief being shot and killed in December 1997. The police have not announced what disciplinary actions were taken.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
No constitutional provision or law specifically prohibits torture, although laws that prohibit "committing grievous hurt" encompass torture; however, some police tortured and abused persons, and reports of instances of abuse were worse than in previous years.
Police continued to abuse detainees. There were instances in which police officers subjected criminal suspects and illegal alien detainees to physical and psychological torture during interrogation and detention. During the trial of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, senior police officers testified that police had institutionalized techniques to subject some detainees to coercive and abusive treatment. A senior officer said that police simply did not consider whether such tactics were legal. In some cases authorities have investigated police officials for such abuses; however, because the Government does not release information on the results of the investigations routinely, whether those responsible for abuses are punished is not always known.
When former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was arraigned on criminal charges following 9 days of Internal Security Act (ISA) detention (see Section 1.d.) without access to family or attorneys, he stated that police had beaten him into unconsciousness during his first day of detention. Eyewitnesses reported that Anwar's face, arms, and neck were bruised badly. Anwar stated that after the beating he had suffered unclear vision and faulty balance. Police investigated Anwar‚s claims and submitted a report to the Attorney General in November. The Attorney General later acknowledged that police caused some of Anwar‚s injuries, but did not identify those responsible.
Other figures associated with Anwar‚s case also alleged police mistreatment. During Anwar‚s trial, the two authors of a poison pen letter against Anwar alleged that police had used coercive and abusive tactics against them to force retractions of the letters allegations. (Police admitted to these charges, but no officers were charged for misconduct.) Two men convicted of "gross indecency" for allegedly having been sodomized by Anwar, later recanted their confessions, and gave largely consistent descriptions of physical and psychological torture at the hands of police. In November a lawyer for a business associate of Anwar alleged that prosecutors threatened his client with a death sentence on firearms charges unless he agreed to fabricate evidence against Anwar. Following this the Attorney General instructed prosecutors that all future plea bargain negotiations should be recorded in writing. The businessman‚s trial on firearms charges that carry a mandatory death sentence was still pending at year‚s end. There were other credible reports of torture and abuse as well.
In late September, police cracked down on demonstrations in support of political reform, breaking up many such gatherings and making many hundreds of arrests. Riot police often forcibly dispersed peaceful demonstrators, using truncheons, water cannon, and tear gas (see Section 2.b.).
From January to April there were regular press reports of police brutality. After April press reports of such incidents dwindled to just a handful for the entire rest of the year. The press reports described beatings of those in custody, of those being arrested, and of ordinary citizens who for some reason angered police officers. NGO‚s also reported alleged incidents of police brutality. In March a police officer was charged for causing grievous hurt to a man in a private dispute. At year‚s end, this case was still pending. Also in March three policemen were charged with raping a woman whom they had lured to their quarters. The case against the policemen was given a discharge not amounting to acquittal when the court learned that the woman had returned to Indonesia and was unable to testify. In August five police officers were charged with assaulting two men in a bar. The case was still pending at year‚s end.
Criminal law prescribes caning as an additional punishment to imprisonment for those convicted of some nonviolent crimes such as narcotics possession, criminal breach of trust, and alien smuggling. Judges routinely include caning in sentences of those convicted of such crimes as kidnaping, rape, and robbery. The caning, which is carried out with a 1/2-inch-thick wooden cane, commonly causes welts, and sometimes causes scarring. In theory even children can be caned. For example, in July a 15-year-old boy was sentenced to 10 strokes of the cane for a drug offense. The sentence was commuted.
Prison conditions generally meet minimum international standards. Prisons meet basic human needs, including medical care, sanitation, nutrition, and family access. Overcrowding is an increasingly serious problem. In May the prisons director-general urged courts to expedite processing to help ease overcrowding. At that time the director-general stated that prisons were holding 26,548 prisoners, while planned capacity was only 20,000. "Security" prisoners (see Section 1.d.) are detained in a separate detention center.
Prison guards have been accused and convicted of criminal wrongdoing, mostly in nonviolent narcotics cases. In September the family of Lim Guan Eng, an opposition leader convicted of sedition (see Section 2.a.), alleged that Lim was forced to sleep on a damp concrete floor, had no clean water to drink, had no opportunity to exercise, and did not have adequate reading materials. Lim's family also alleged that a bright light shone in Lim's cell at all times. The prisons director-general denied some of the allegations, confirmed others, and stated that Lim was being treated the same as any other prisoner in accordance with minimum U.N. guidelines, as well as with Malaysian prison regulations, which date from the colonial era.
The Government holds many illegal aliens under inhuman conditions. Access to illegal alien camps is restricted and details are hard to prove. However, the volume and consistency of allegations of inadequate food, poor medical care, poor sanitation, and abuse by guards make credible the charge that detention conditions pose a serious threat to life and health. There were numerous allegations that such inhuman conditions caused the deaths of an unknown number of illegal aliens.
The Government has an agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) providing for visits to certain categories of prisoners and has not posed any objection to such visits. However, the ICRC has not visited for several years. Other NGO‚s and the media generally are not allowed to monitor prison conditions. Access to illegal alien detention camps is restricted and the Government in some cases even prevents representatives of foreign embassies from visiting their nationals in the camps.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Suspects of some crimes (called "seizable offenses") may be arrested without warrants; suspects of other crimes ("nonseizable offenses") may be arrested only on the basis of a warrant from a magistrate. Suspects of some crimes ("bailable offenses") may present bail at the police station according to a schedule. Bail is not available for other crimes ("nonbailable offenses") and is sometimes also denied in other circumstances (e.g., great risk of flight). Police may hold suspects for 24 hours without charge. Police may request a magistrate to extend the period of remand without charge for 1 week and may then request a second extension of 1 week. After this second extension police must charge the suspect and seek an order of detention from a magistrate. While in remand, suspects have access to legal counsel, though not always to family visits. In general, police practice is in accord with these legal provisions.
Crowded, understaffed courts and the legal safeguards and appeals available to the accused often result in lengthy pretrial detention, sometimes lasting several years. On May 31, the prisons director-general said that roughly half of the prison population were prisoners who had not yet been sentenced. The great majority of these prisoners either have been convicted and are awaiting sentence or are in the midst of their trials. Detainees awaiting trial constitute much less than half of all detainees.
Three laws permit the Government to detain suspects without judicial review or the filing of formal charges: The 1960 Internal Security Act (ISA), the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance of 1969, and the Dangerous Drugs Act (Special Preventive Measures) of 1985. The Government continued to use long-term detention without trial in cases alleged to involve national security as well as in narcotics trafficking and other cases. According to the Home Affairs Ministry, on November 30, a total of 223 persons were being detained under the ISA. Subsequently, another person was arrested under the ISA after being freed from remand on charges of illegal assembly. From January through October, police detained a total of nearly 1,500 persons under the Dangerous Drugs Act (Special Preventive Measures). It is not known how many of these still were detained at year‚s end. The Government has not disclosed how many persons are detained under the Emergency Ordinance.
Enacted more than 30 years ago when there was an active Communist insurgency, the ISA empowers the police to hold for up to 60 days any person who may act "in a manner prejudicial to the security of Malaysia." The Minister of Home Affairs may authorize further detention for periods of up to 2 years. Those released before the end of their detention period are subject to "imposed restricted conditions" for the balance of their detention periods. These conditions limit their rights to freedom of speech, association, and travel outside the country.
According to the Government, the goal of the ISA is to control internal subversion. On November 30, the Deputy Home Affairs Minister said that in the previous 10 years no person had been detained under the ISA for political reasons (other than Communist activity) beyond the initial 60-day period. He said that of the 867 persons detained for more than 60 days, 359 were involved in Communist activities, 447 falsified documents or otherwise abetted illegal alien smuggling, 21 were "religious extremists," 9 "leaked intelligence secrets," and 1 was associated with the Free Aceh Movement. He further stated that of the 223 persons still detained, 131 were for document forgery, 89 for illegal alien smuggling, 2 for deviant Islamic teaching, and 1 for activities associated with the Free Aceh Movement.
As these figures indicate, the ISA is often used against nonpolitical crimes. In the first half of the year, the Government depended heavily on the ISA in its campaign against illegal alien smuggling. The Government also frequently uses the ISA against Muslim sects that it considers "deviant." The ISA, and the threat of the ISA, are also used to intimidate and restrict political dissent. For example, the police detained former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and 27 of his followers under the ISA in the latter months of the year, after a series of largely peaceful antigovernment demonstrations. The Government claimed that the demonstrations threatened national security. NGO‚s, opposition parties, and the Malaysian Bar Council criticized the detentions. By year‚s end, Anwar and the other 27 either had been released or released and then again detained under regular criminal charges. In late September, police broke up many demonstrations in support of political reform and arrested many hundreds of persons (see Section 2.b.).
Security authorities sometimes wait several days after detention before informing an ISA detainee's family. Even when there are no formal charges, the authorities must inform detainees of the accusations against them and permit them to appeal to an advisory board for review every 6 months. However, advisory board decisions and recommendations are not binding on the Home Affairs Minister, are not public, and often are not shown to the detainee. In the past, some ISA detainees have refused to participate in the review process under these circumstances.
Amendments to the ISA in 1997 sharply circumscribed judicial review of ISA detentions. Although the Malaysian Bar Council has asserted that detentions under the ISA are subject to judicial review on both procedural and substantive grounds, the courts have not concurred with this interpretation, and review ISA detentions only on technical grounds. Detainees freed on technical grounds nearly always are detained again immediately.
Opposition leaders and human rights organizations continued to call on the Government to repeal the ISA and other legislation that deprive persons of the right to defend themselves in court.
Under the 1969 Emergency Ordinance, which was instituted after intercommunal riots in that year, the Home Affairs Minister can issue a detention order for up to 2 years against a person if he deems it necessary to protect public order or for the "suppression of violence or the prevention of crimes involving violence." In fact the Government has used the Emergency Ordinance for other reasons. For example, in January eight police officers were detained under the Emergency Ordinance for criminal activities. In May police detained under the Emergency Ordinance a man being investigated for murder after a court ordered the man released because of insufficient evidence. The Government has not disclosed the total number of people detained under this law.
Provisions of the 1985 Dangerous Drugs Act (Special Preventive Measures) give the Government specific power to detain without trial suspected drug traffickers. The suspects may be held for up to 39 days before the Home Affairs Minister must issue a detention order. Once the Ministry has issued an order, the detainee is entitled to a hearing before a court. In some instances, the judge may order the detainee's release. Suspects may be held without charge for successive 2-year intervals, with periodic review by an advisory board, whose opinion is binding on the Home Affairs Minister. However, the review process contains none of the due process rights that a defendant would have in a court proceeding. The police frequently detain suspected narcotics traffickers under the special preventive measures after the traffickers are acquitted in court on formal charges--often as they leave the courtroom. From January through October, the Government detained nearly 1,500 persons under this law. It is not known how many remained detained at year‚s end.
Immigration laws are used to detain possible illegal aliens without trial or hearing. The detainees are not accorded any administrative or legal hearings and are released only after their employers prove their legal status. Those who can produce legal documents normally are released immediately; those who cannot prove their legal status often are held for extended periods before deportation. In May the Immigration Department warned all citizens to carry their identity cards or risk detention as possible illegal aliens. Illegal aliens are kept in detention centers that are separate from prisons (see Section l.c.).
Law enforcement authorities also used the Restricted Residence Act to restrict movements of criminal suspects for an extended period. The act allows the Home Affairs Ministry to place criminal suspects under restricted residence in a remote district away from home for 2 years. The Ministry is authorized to issue the "banishment" orders without any judicial or administrative hearings. Human rights activists have questioned the need for this law, which was passed more than 60 years ago under very different circumstances, and have called for its repeal. The Government has continued to justify the act as a necessary tool and has used it primarily against vice and gambling offenses. For example, in March police stated that 37 persons had been banished since the beginning of 1997 under the act for illegal gambling. The Government has not disclosed how many persons are subject to the Restricted Residence Act, and no accurate estimate was available.
In September 1997, the Malaysian Bar Council expressed its concern about 44 prisoners held "at the pleasure of the Sovereign" for inordinate periods, often well exceeding the maximum sentences for their original crimes. In one case a prisoner had been held for 37 years. Most of these "forgotten prisoners" committed their crimes as minors or while of unsound mind. In April the Attorney General stated that the Government had expedited hearings on the cases. The results of these hearings, if any, are unknown.
The Government does not use forced exile.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Over the past decade, government action, constitutional amendments, and legislation restricting judicial review have undermined judicial independence and strengthened executive influence over the judiciary. A number of high-profile cases continued to cast doubts on judicial impartiality and independence, and to raise questions of arbitrary verdicts and selective prosecution. Members of the bar and other observers continued to express serious concern about these problems. In addition, the continuing deterioration of judicial independence has led to concern about the overall fairness of the judiciary. For example, in an April statement, a prominent Malaysian economics professor stated that, "it is now well known that not only foreign firms, but even Malaysian companies, now insist on clauses in contracts providing for arbitration owing to the general decline in confidence in the judiciary."
In August the Attorney General publicly cautioned judges to adhere to their code of conduct. He advised judges to avoid acts that could result in a conflict of interest, including hearing cases in which some of the participating lawyers are relatives, hearing cases from a firm that bears the judge's name, receiving free golf club memberships, and being involved in gambling. Some legal observers questioned the propriety of the Attorney General making such comments. The Chief Justice later endorsed the comments as proper.
In cases widely thought to be politically motivated, several large companies, prominent businessmen, and one prominent lawyer brought suits for libel and slander against the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Datuk Param Curamaswamy, who is a Malaysian citizen, and against the Malaysian Bar Council's former secretary general Tommy Thomas. The charges stemmed from an article that alleged improprieties in the judiciary. The courts rejected Param's request to have the suit dismissed before trial based on his claim of immunity as a U.N. Special Rapporteur, a claim supported by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. In August the Government agreed to abide by a U.N. Economic and Social Council decision to refer the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for an advisory opinion on Param's claim to immunity. However, the Court of Appeal defied this decision and refused to stay the case. The U.N. expressed alarm over the Court's decision. The ICJ heard Param‚s case in December, but has not yet made a ruling. The case against Tommy Thomas, who had no claim to immunity, was settled out of court in November. After Thomas told reporters that the settlement, which included a large cash payment and a humiliating apology, had been forced on him by insurers, he was charged with contempt of court. In December Thomas was sentenced to 6 month‚s imprisonment, which was stayed pending appeal.
The cases against Lim Guan Eng, Irene Fernandez, and Murray Hiebert (see Section 2.a.) also raised questions about judicial independence and impartiality.
High courts have original jurisdiction over all criminal cases involving serious crimes and most civil cases. Civil suits involving automobile accidents and landlord-tenant disputes are heard by sessions courts. Magistrate's courts hear criminal cases in which the maximum term of sentence do not exceed 12 months. Juvenile courts try offenders under age 18. The Special Court tries cases against the King and the sultans. The Court of Appeal has appellate jurisdiction over high court and sessions court decisions. The Federal Court hears appeals of court of appeal decisions.
The legal system is based on English common law. Islamic religious laws administered by state authorities through Islamic courts bind ethnic Malays and other Muslims in some civil matters. In 1997 the Government announced that it would harmonize Islamic law at the federal level and appoint an Islamic law federal attorney general. However, the Government has not been able to obtain the agreement of all the states, and the proposal had not been implemented by year‚s end. Indigenous people in Sarawak and Sabah also have a system of customary law to resolve matters such as land disputes between tribes. Penghulu (village head) courts may adjudicate minor civil matters, but these are rarely used.
Trials are public, although judges may order restrictions on press coverage. Defendants have the right to counsel, bail is sometimes available, and strict rules of evidence apply in court. Witnesses are subject to cross-examination. The defense in both ordinary criminal cases and special security cases is not entitled to a statement of evidence before the trial. Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence and may appeal court decisions to higher courts. In criminal cases defendants also may appeal for clemency to the King or local state rulers as appropriate. A single judge hears each criminal trial. There are no jury trials.
In May Parliament passed amendments to the Courts of Judicature Act (1964) that limited the rights of defendants to appeal in some circumstances. The Government stated that these amendments would expedite the hearing of cases in the upper courts. The president of the Malaysian Bar Association said that the amendments imposed too many restrictions on appeals.
The Attorney General may restrict the right to a fair trial in criminal cases, by invoking the Essential (Security Cases) Regulations of 1975. These regulations governing trial procedure normally apply only in firearms cases. In cases tried under these regulations, the standards for accepting self-incriminating statements by defendants as evidence are less stringent than in normal criminal cases. Also, the authorities may hold the accused for an unspecified time before making formal charges. The Attorney General has the authority to invoke these regulations in other criminal cases if the Government determines that the crime involves national security considerations, but such cases are rare. There were no reported cases involving this restriction in 1998.
Even when the Essential Regulations are not invoked, defense lawyers lack some legal protections against interference. For example, in November police raided the office of a defense attorney of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and searched through legal documents. In response to a defense complaint, the judge responded that the police have the right to conduct investigations and defense attorneys should stop "wasting time" by complaining. In December, after Anwar‚s defense team played a tape purportedly describing a conspiracy against Anwar, police picked up for questioning a businessman linked to the tape. The presiding judge stated that no law allowed him to bar such conduct by the police.
Following a number of high-profile corruption cases, the Government amended the Anticorruption Act in July 1997. The new law, which came into effect on January 1, impinges on the presumption of innocence and requires accused persons to prove that they acquired their wealth legally.
Under the Evidence Act, the testimony of children is accepted only if there is corroborating evidence. This poses special problems for molestation cases in which the child victim is the only witness. In April a high court judge recommended that the Evidence Act be amended to accept the evidence of children.
Lim Guan Eng, imprisoned under the Printing Press and Publications Act and the Sedition Act, is a political prisoner (see Section 2.a.).
f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law provides for these rights; however, provisions in the security legislation (see Section l.d.) allow the police to enter and search without a warrant the homes of persons suspected of threatening national security. Police also may confiscate evidence under these acts. In some cases each year, police have used this legal authority to search homes and offices, seize books and papers, monitor conversations, and take people into custody without a warrant. For example, acting under the authority of the ISA, police searched without warrants the houses of an alleged associate of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar and of Anwar himself, seizing many documents and other materials. The law permits the Home Affairs Ministry to place criminal suspects under restricted residence in a remote district away from home for a 2-year period (see Section l.d.). Police threatened to use the Child Protection Act to take away children from their parents who brought them to opposition demonstrations (see Section 2.b.).
The Government bans membership in unregistered political parties, such as the Communist Party, and affiliated organizations (see Section 2.b.).
A clause in the 1997 Anticorruption Act empowers the Attorney General to authorize the interception of mail and the wiretapping of telephones. Such information would be admissible as evidence in a corruption trial. Certain religious issues pose significant obstacles to marriage between Muslims and adherents of other religions (see Section 2.c.).
Singaporean newspapers and magazines may not circulate in Malaysia (see Section 2.a.); these publications are available on the Internet.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Although the Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, some important legal limitations exist, and over the years the Government increasingly has restricted freedom of expression and intimidated the print and electronic media into practicing self-censorship.
The Constitution provides that freedom of speech may be restricted by legislation "in the interest of security (or) public order." For example, the Sedition Act prohibits public comment on issues defined as sensitive, such as citizenship rights for non-Malays, the special position of Malays in society, and certain aspects of religion. In practice, the Sedition Act and some other laws have been used to restrict political speech.
The Government filed criminal charges under the Sedition Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act against opposition youth leader Lim Guan Eng before the 1995 general election. The charges stemmed from Lim's public comments about a statutory rape case involving a former chief minister of Malacca. In l997 Lim was convicted under both acts and fined $5,555 (15,000 ringgit). In April Lim's sentence was increased on appeal (as permitted under the law) to two concurrent 18-month prison sentences instead of a fine. In his April oral decision, Appeals Court Judge Gopal Sri Ram stated, "it is time that the court sends a clear message that it cannot tolerate any attack on the judiciary." Gopal's remark led many senior members of the bar to state publicly that criticism of judicial decisions is permissible under the law. In August Lim's final appeal was denied and he was imprisoned. Lim's family later alleged that Lim was detained under inhumane conditions (see Section 1.c.). Unless he is pardoned, Lim also has lost the right to run for political office for 5 years from the date of his release from prison. The Prime Minister's daughter, women's activist Marina Mahathir, made similar remarks about the same statutory rape case, but no action was taken against her, raising a concern about selective prosecution of an opposition leader. After Lim Guan Eng's imprisonment, NGO‚s, including the Bar Council, called for revision of the Sedition Act.
In September police filed a report (a prelude to possible criminal charges) under the Sedition Act against former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim for an interview that was critical of the Government (see Section 1.d.). Police also interviewed Anwar's wife after she made critical remarks in an interview with the foreign press. However, no charges had been filed as of year‚s end.
On December 11, the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, police in Johore arrested four members of two opposition parties for distributing pamphlets advocating political reform. The case was still pending at year‚s end.
In 1998 the Government generally was more intolerant of dissent than at any other time in the past decade. The Prime Minister, the Inspector General of Police, the Minister of Information, and many other government officials made numerous harsh statements ascribing seditious or treasonous motives to critics of government policies. Although many persons still criticized the Government publicly, the increasing belligerence of official statements toward critics made many individuals more cautious in exercising their rights of free speech. Police detained four persons under the ISA in August and September for "cyber rumor-mongering." Police accused the detainees of spreading false reports of rioting and potential violence against Chinese Malaysians via the Internet. The four later were charged under a section of the Penal Code that prohibits statements that cause fear or alarm. In September a Malaysian Internet service provider shut down a pro-Anwar web site, forcing the sponsors to move the site to an overseas service provider. Also in September, a Malaysian Internet service provider announced that it had identified to police a person alleged to have "incited racial hatred."
The domestic mass media provide generally laudatory, uncritical coverage of government officials and policies, and usually give only limited and selective coverage to political views of the opposition or political rivals. Editorial opinion almost always reflects government positions on domestic and international issues.
Chinese-language newspapers generally are freer in reporting and commenting on sensitive political and social issues, but are not immune to government pressure. For example, in July the Prime Minister publicly asked the Chinese-language press to cease criticism of Indonesia over the reported rapes of ethnic Chinese women during rioting in Jakarta. The Chinese-language press complied instantly.
However, the English-, Malay-, and Chinese-language press all reported on some sensitive issues. For example, the firing of Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim initially was well covered in the press. Local newspapers and television initially reported many of Anwar's statements, even the most critical. However, later developments were covered selectively and in a manner generally (but not uniformly) supportive of the Government‚s views.
The Printing Presses and Publications Act of 1984 contains important limitations on press freedom. Domestic and foreign publications must apply annually to the Government for a permit. The act was amended in 1987 to make the publication of "malicious news" a punishable offense, expand the Government's power to ban or restrict publications, and prohibit court challenges to suspension or revocation of publication permits. Government power over license renewal and other policies create an atmosphere that inhibits independent or investigative journalism and results in extensive self-censorship. In September the Minister of Information stated that the media "do not have a responsibility to provide news coverage to people outside the Government." The Government often conveys its displeasure with press reporting directly to a newspaper's board of directors. In addition, leading political figures in the ruling coalition, or companies controlled by them, own most major newspapers and all radio and television stations, thus limiting the range of views. At times, the susceptibility of the press to government pressure has a direct and public impact on media operations. For example, in July the editors of two of the country's largest daily newspapers and a television operations director were removed, apparently because of government displeasure. The removals apparently stemmed from political rivalries within the ruling party.
The Government continued to prosecute human rights activist Irene Fernandez under the Printing Presses and Publications Act for charges that she made in 1995 of mistreatment at illegal alien detention centers. Final judgment is still pending.
In past years, the Government has on a few occasions used the defamation clauses of the Penal Code to prosecute newspapers and reporters that publish criticism of government officials. During the year, police investigated a case of criminal defamation against the author of a book that allegedly slandered former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar.
Publications of opposition parties, social action groups, unions, and other private groups actively cover opposition parties and frequently print views critical of government policies. The circulation of the Islamic opposition party newspaper increased to over 300,000 during the year, making the twice-weekly paper‚s circulation as large as that of some mainstream newspapers. However, the Government retains significant influence over these publications by requiring annual renewal of publishing permits and limiting circulation only to members of the relevant organization. In the case of the Islamic opposition party journal, in October the Government summoned the publisher to warn him about open distribution of the newspaper. The Government also threatened "stern action" against vendors who sold the newspaper to nonparty members. However, there were no cases of the denial of renewal requests in 1998. During the year, the opposition Democratic Action Party resumed publication of its party journal, The Rocket.
The Official Secrets Act potentially also can restrict freedom of the press. Pointing out the dangers of abuse, the Bar Council and other NGO‚s have called for a review of certain provisions that grant considerable discretion to the authorities.
The foreign press has come under increasing government criticism for allegedly biased reporting. The Prime Minister in September accused the foreign press of "spreading lies" and stated that the foreign press wanted to see violence in Malaysia. The police inspector general also made harsh attacks on the foreign press. On several occasions, the Information Minister made remarks aimed at pressuring Malaysian employees of foreign news organizations; he also threatened foreign correspondents who "broke the law" by working with improper accreditation. Local television stations refused on several occasions to transmit to satellite foreign press videotapes of the demonstrations in support of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar. However, foreign journalists covering the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation economic leaders meeting in November were unhindered.
In 1997 Far Eastern Economic Review correspondent Murray Hiebert was convicted of contempt of court and sentenced to 3 months' imprisonment. Hiebert, who is still free pending appeal, had written an article that implied that the plaintiff in a civil suit had received preferential treatment in scheduling a trial date because she was the wife of a prominent judge. Hiebert is not free to leave Malaysia pending the result of his appeal. This case, the first in which a foreign correspondent has been sentenced to jail for contempt in the ordinary course of his duties, raises serious questions of freedom of the press and of judicial impartiality.
A government censorship board censors films for profanity, nudity, sex, violence, and certain political and religious content. Television stations censor programming in line with government guidelines. The Government bans certain books for political and religious reasons or because of sexual or profane content. Some foreign newspapers and magazines are banned (see Section 1.f.) and, infrequently, foreign magazines or newspapers are censored, most often for sexual content. However, the increased prevalence of the Internet is undermining such restriction. The Government maintains a "blacklist" of local and foreign performers, politicians, and religious leaders who may not appear on broadcasts of Malaysian television or radio.
The Government generally respects academic freedom in the areas of teaching and publication. Academics are sometimes publicly critical of the Government. However, there is a degree of self-censorship among public university academics whose career advancement and funding are prerogatives of the Government. Private institution academics also practice self-censorship due to fear that the Government may revoke licenses for their institutions. Legislation also imposes limitations on student associations and student and faculty activity (see Section 2.b.). Government officials reiterated warnings against student political activity in September during disturbances connected with the ouster of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar.
In 1997 the Government prohibited academics from making any public statements or publishing any writings on Malaysia's air pollution crisis. The Government appears to have feared that unauthorized remarks on the air pollution crisis might harm the country's image and hurt tourism. Academics and others openly protested this order. The gag order remained in effect during the year, but the Government did not enforce it vigorously.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for the right of freedom of peaceful assembly, but there are significant restrictions. These rights may be limited in the interest of security and public order, and the 1967 Police Act requires police permits for all public assemblies except for workers on picket lines. In practice, the police use a restrictive policy in granting permits to government critics, but grant permits easily to government and ruling coalition supporters.
In the past, the police generally had not required closed-door, indoor, opposition meetings to obtain permits. In the summer, the police began to enforce the permit requirement on predominantly ethnic Chinese opposition party‚s meetings and broke up several meetings for lack of a permit, often arresting several persons. Police also prevented the holding of an NGO meeting on Kuala Lumpur‚s water crisis after the meeting's permit was revoked. A police official later advised the public not to turn to NGO‚s to resolve their water problem. Opposition and NGO applications for permits often went unanswered. Permits, when granted, often carried severely restrictive conditions. This restrictive policy generally was not enforced on progovernment or proruling party gatherings.
After his removal as deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim held several large lectures and rallies without a police permit. In a number of instances permits were requested but police either refused to grant them or did not respond to his requests. In September following a large gathering in Kuala Lumpur, police arrested Anwar under the ISA (see Section 1.d.). After Anwar's arrest, his supporters continued to hold demonstrations and gatherings in support of political reform. In late September, police cracked down on these demonstrations and broke up many such gatherings, resulting in many hundreds of arrests. Riot police often forcibly dispersed peaceful gatherings using truncheons, water cannon, and tear gas. Police also threatened to use the Child Protection Act to take away children from their parents who brought the children to opposition demonstrations. Police also served Anwar's wife with an order under the ISA forbidding her to hold public meetings. By the end of the year, the authorities largely had succeeded in preventing peaceful "proreform" assemblies from being held.
Tian Chua, a leader for a new NGO coalition formed after the ouster and detention of Anwar, was arrested in the Kuala Lumpur neighborhood of Kampung Baru, which had been the site of demonstrations earlier that day. Eyewitnesses said that Tian was arrested while talking to foreign journalists and diplomats several hours after the demonstrators had dispersed. After posting bail on charges of "illegal assembly," Tian was rearrested and also may face sedition charges.
Since government critics have great difficulties obtaining timely police permits, police prosecution of "unlawful" assemblies effectively amounts to a prohibition on such meetings. However, police tolerated some opposition meetings that proceeded without police permits, and on rare occasions refused permits to progovernment groups.
In April 1997, police detained 55 opposition party members who demonstrated in protest of an Israeli team's participation at an international cricket championship. The case against the demonstrators is still pending.
Government and opposition candidates campaign actively. There are, however, restrictions on freedom of assembly during campaigns. In the aftermath of the intercommunal riots in 1969, the Government banned political rallies. During the actual campaign period, political parties submit lists of times and places for proposed discussion sessions. In past campaigns some opposition discussion group meetings have been canceled due to lack of a police permit, most recently during the 1996 Sarawak state election campaign. These restrictions and the ban on political rallies handicap the opposition's ability to campaign effectively.
The Constitution provides for the right of association, but there are significant restrictions. For example, certain statutes limit this right. Under the Societies Act of 1966, only registered, approved organizations of seven or more persons may function. The Government sometimes refuses to register organizations, or may impose conditions when allowing a society to register. For example, the Government prohibits the Communist Party and affiliated organizations (see Section 1.f.). The Government also has not allowed Amnesty International to set up a branch in Malaysia. The Government also has the power to revoke the registration of an existing society for violations of the act, a power it has enforced selectively against political opposition groups. This threat of possible deregistration inhibits political activism by public or special interest organizations.
To avoid the burdensome requirements of the Societies Act, many NGO‚s register as companies under the Companies Act. Amendments to the Companies Act passed in April empowered the Registrar of Companies to refuse registration of a proposed company if he is satisfied that the company is likely to be used for any purpose prejudicial to national security or public interest. The Registrar also can cancel the registration of an existing company and disband it on the same grounds. Opposition parties and NGO activists charged that the sweeping powers granted to the Registrar of Companies were designed to stifle criticism. The Government denied such charges and stated that financial irregularities were the amendments' main target. Government claims were undercut somewhat by later police statements that alluded threateningly to the status of certain NGO‚s under the Companies or Societies Acts. On November 28, the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs said that police were investigating NGO‚s that had engaged in activities prejudicial to national security. The Deputy Minister stated that police were looking into the foreign links of such NGO‚s and repeated the legal registration requirements. NGO activists believe that this investigation is a prelude to an attempt to deregister several NGO‚s.
In a separate initiative, the Ministry of National Unity and Social Development announced that it would examine the books of over 800 NGO‚s for financial irregularities. It is unclear whether NGO‚s critical of the Government are being targeted specifically. The Ministry also investigated whether any NGO‚s that receive government grants had links with "bad" foreign NGO‚s.
The various measures being taken against NGO‚s come in an increasingly hostile political climate. The Prime Minister on several occasions accused NGO‚s of working with foreigners to slander or undermine Malaysia. Other senior officials, including the Information Minister and the Human Resources Minister, echoed these charges. The Inspector General of Police stated in May that the police would not tolerate the "spreading of lies" by NGO‚s.
Another law that affects freedom of association is the Universities and University Colleges Act. This act mandates university approval for student associations and prohibits student associations, as well as faculty members, from engaging in political activity. In September six students were suspended for their role in the opposition victory in a by-election. Police also warned in September that students must not engage in the "reform" movement led by former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar. Such restrictions are not enforced as vigorously on students who participate in pro-ruling coalition political activities. A university vice chancellor must approve campus demonstrations. Human rights organizations assert that the act inhibits the free flow of ideas and exchange of views and have called for its repeal.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and religious minorities, which include large Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, and Christian communities, generally worship freely, although with some restrictions. Islam is the official religion; however, the practice of Islamic beliefs other than Sunni Islam is restricted severely. Adherence to Islam is considered intrinsic to Malay ethnic identity, and therefore Islamic religious laws administered by state authorities through Islamic courts bind all ethnic Malays in some matters. Government funds support an Islamic religious establishment, and it is official policy to "infuse Islamic values" into the administration of the country. However, the Government has not imposed Islamic religious law beyond the Muslim community.
The Government generally respects non-Muslims' right of worship. However, state governments carefully control the building of non-Muslim places of worship and the allocation of land for non-Muslim cemeteries. Approvals for such permits sometimes are granted very slowly. After a violent conflict in Penang between Hindus and Muslims in March, the Government announced a review of unlicensed Hindu temples and shrines. However, implementation does not appear to be vigorous.
The right of a Muslim to leave Islam to adhere to another faith is a very controversial question, and in practice it is very difficult for a Muslim to change religion. The case of a young Muslim woman who tried to leave Islam and adopt the religion of her Catholic fiancé sparked a nationwide furor. The issue of Muslim "apostasy" became very controversial and proposals were floated inside and outside the Government for various punishments for "apostates." In August the Government stated that apostates would not face punishment as long as they did not defame Islam after their conversion.
Proselytizing of Muslims by members of other religions is prohibited strictly, though proselytizing of non-Muslims faces no obstacles. For a long time, the Government has discouraged--and in practical terms forbidden--the circulation in peninsular Malaysia of Malay-language translations of the Bible and distribution of Christian tapes and printed materials in Malay. However, Malay-language Christian materials can be found. Some states have laws that prohibit the use of Malay-language religious terms by Christians, but the authorities do not enforce them actively. Malay-language Christian materials face few restrictions in east Malaysia. Visas for foreign Christian clergy are restricted severely.
As part of its campaign to infuse Muslim values, in September the military forbade the sale of alcohol on all military installations, including to non-Muslims.
For Muslim children, religious education according to a government-approved curriculum is compulsory.
The Government opposes what it considers deviant interpretations of Islam. In the past, the Government has imposed restrictions on certain Islamic sects. The Government continues to monitor the activities of the Shi‚ite minority. In 1997 the Government proposed amending the Constitution to make Sunni Islam the country‚s official Islamic sect. This would make illegal the practice of other forms of Islam. This proposal still was being discussed but had not yet been implemented by year‚s end.
In November 1997, 10 persons, 2 of whom were over 75 years old, were detained under the ISA for spreading Shi‚ite teachings. Two of the prisoners later were released on a technicality, but were detained again (also under the ISA) just minutes after they left the courtroom. Two of these detainees remain under ISA detention (see Section l.c.). In September the Government stated that it was monitoring the activities of 55 religious groups believed to be involved in "deviant" Islamic teachings.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Citizens generally have the right to travel within the country and live and work where they please, but the Government restricts these rights in some circumstances. The east Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak have the right to control immigration into their territories and to require citizens from peninsular west Malaysia and foreigners to present passports or national identity cards for entry. In July the Court of Appeal ruled that Sabah and Sarawak, despite their autonomy, still are bound by the federal Constitution in all matters. Thus, the Court voided Sabah's expulsion of a west Malaysian attorney who had previously been involved in several lawsuits against the state government. The Sabah state government is appealing the ruling. The federal Government regulates the internal movement of provisionally released ISA detainees. The Government also uses the Restricted Residence Act to limit movements of those suspected of some criminal activities (see Section l.d.).
The Government generally does not restrict emigration. As a belt-tightening measure in the wake of the country's sustained economic problems, the Government prohibited civil servants from taking tourism trips abroad without (rarely granted) permission. Other citizens generally were free to travel abroad, though in September the Government, as part of a currency control scheme, limited the amount of ringgit that travelers could exchange for foreign currency.
Citizens must apply for the Government's permission to travel to Israel. Travel to Jerusalem for religious purposes is allowed explicitly.
Malaysia has not ratified the 1957 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugee Convention and does not accept that the convention reflects customary international law. In March the Government reversed a long-standing tacit policy of not deporting Acehnese back to Indonesia, and forcibly returned several hundred persons. Despite representations from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the international community, and evidence that Acehnese might face persecution upon return to Indonesia, the Government refused to acknowledge that any Acehnese might have a claim to refugee status (see Section 1.a.). International human rights organizations reported that three Acehnese refugees deported by Malaysia and suspected of separatist activity by the Indonesian Government were tortured as they were being transported back to Indonesia by Indonesian authorities. According to the reports, the three were chained to inner tubes and dragged across the Strait of Malacca behind the Indonesian vessel that was transporting them. One of the three reportedly died.
The Government generally did not restrict the access of undetained potential asylum seekers to the UNHCR and cooperated in the resettlement of some refugees. However, the Government only infrequently granted the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations access to detained aliens. There were forced expulsions of asylum seekers and refugees among non-Indonesians as well, including Algerians, Iraqis, and Sri Lankans. The Government did not provide first asylum during 1998. Although the Government gave first asylum in past years to approximately 254,000 Vietnamese the Government closed its last camp for Vietnamese refugees in 1996.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
By law citizens have the right to change their government through periodic elections, which are procedurally free and fair, with votes recorded accurately. In practice, however, it is difficult for opposition parties to compete on equal terms with the governing coalition (which has held power at the national level since 1957) because of legal restrictions on campaigning, as well as severe restrictions on freedom of assembly, of association, and of the press. Nevertheless, opposition candidates campaign actively. Both voting and the counting of votes are relatively free and fair, though there are sometimes irregularities. The Government coalition controls 12 of 13 state governments. An Islamic opposition party controls the northern state of Kelantan.
The Constitution states that parliamentary constituencies should have roughly equal numbers of eligible voters, though the same section states that greater weight should be given to rural constituencies. In practice, these guidelines are often ignored. In Sabah, for example, constituencies are strongly weighted against the state's large Christian population. Nationwide, the constitutional provision giving greater weight to rural constituencies greatly dilutes the voting power of urban residents. Finally, the single member, winner-take-all system diminishes the political power of the minority ethnic Indians. Ethnic gerrymandering of parliamentary constituencies, used against the opposition in the past, may no longer be as effective.
Students face certain restrictions on political activity (see Section 2.b.).
Malaysia has a parliamentary system of government. National elections, required at least every 5 years, have been held regularly since independence in 1957. In the 1995 general election the ruling coalition won 82 percent of the parliamentary seats. Several members of the opposition camp have joined the coalition since, increasing its representation in the Parliament to approximately 88 percent.
The Malay-based United Malay National Organization (UMNO) party dominates the ruling National Front coalition. In the past, within UMNO there had been active political debate. In 1998 various attempts to enforce "no-contest" rules for leadership positions, organized and compulsory ritual public affirmations of leadership policies, and generally increased intolerance of dissent severely limited UMNO's role as a vehicle for public debate. After the removal of Deputy Prime Minister Anwar, intolerance of dissent within UMNO increased. In December an extraordinary UMNO assembly approved a series of measures designed to limit independent grassroots initiatives.
The Parliament in 1995 amended its rules to strengthen the power of the Speaker and curb parliamentary procedures heavily used by the opposition. The amendments empowered the Speaker to ban unruly members for up to 10 days, imposed limits on deputies' ability to pose supplementary questions and revisit nongermane issues, and established restrictions on the tabling of questions of public importance. The amendments have restricted the opposition's ability to criticize the Government in Parliament. Further measures in 1997 and 1998 limited even more severely opposition members' opportunities to question and debate government policies. Nonetheless, government officials often face sharp questioning in Parliament, although this usually is not reported in detail in the press.
After the 1969 intercommunal riots, the Government abolished elected local government in favor of municipal committees and village chiefs appointed by state governments. Some politicians and NGO activists have advocated reintroduction of local government. Even some ruling party municipal officials have noted that local bodies are simply "rubber stamps" for the Government. Because of racial and political factors (non-Malays are more concentrated in urban areas), the Government is not expected to reintroduce elected local government soon.
Women face no legal limits on participation in government and politics, but remain underrepresented due to social and other factors. At year‚s end, 2 of 24 cabinet-level ministers were women. Women hold 15 of 192 seats in the elected lower house of Parliament and 15 of 69 seats in the appointed upper house. Women also hold some high-level judgeships. In March the Minister of National Unity and Social Development stated that the country would not achieve its goal of 30 percent female representation in the Government by 2005. The Minister stated that the current rate of participation (defined as the percentage of female representatives in Parliament and in state assemblies) is 6 to 7 percent.
Ethnic minorities are represented in cabinet-level positions in government, as well as in senior civil service positions. Nevertheless, the political dominance of the Malay majority means in practice that ethnic Malays hold the most powerful senior leadership positions. Non-Malays fill 9 of the 28 cabinet posts. An ethnic Chinese leader of a component party of the ruling coalition holds executive power in the state of Penang. In Sabah, the chief minister is an ethnic Kadazan also leader of a ruling coalition component party.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A number of NGO‚s, including the Bar Council and other public interest groups, devote considerable attention to human rights. The Government generally tolerates their activities but rarely responds to their inquiries or press statements. Several new human rights-oriented organizations were formed after the ouster and detention of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. Government officials harshly criticize local NGO‚s for collaborating with foreigners, including international human rights organizations. The tone of government criticism was more severe in 1998, and government officials on several occasions warned that the organizations formed after Anwar‚s ouster were not registered and thus illegal. However, at year‚s end no group had been banned or decertified. In November the leader of one of the new organizations, Tian Chua, was arrested for "unlawful assembly" (see Section 2.b.). After posting bail, Tian immediately was rearrested (charges still have not been detailed). Tian posted bail again in December and at year‚s end he was still free. Public apathy and racial divisions (most human rights NGO‚s had been dominated by non-Malays) limited the effectiveness of NGO‚s in past years. However, during the year, public discontent over the removal of Deputy Prime Minister Anwar gave some impetus to NGO agendas, particularly among the Malay community.
The Government amended the Companies Act to grant the Registrar of Companies wide powers to block or disband organizations deemed prejudicial to national security or the national interest (see Section 2.b.).
The Government generally does not allow international human rights organizations to form branches; however, it generally does not restrict access by representatives of international human right organizations. For example, a foreign representative of Amnesty International attended some sessions of the trial of Lim Guan Eng (see Section 2.a.). Several foreign human rights observers also attended sessions of the trial of former Deputy Prime Minster Anwar Ibrahim. The Government did not restrict the participation of the foreign NGO‚s in the "people's summit" which was held parallel to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation economic leaders meeting in Kuala Lumpur in November.
The Government has discussed appointing an official national human rights commission in accordance with its obligations in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations human rights working group. Thus far, however, no national commission has actually been formed.
The U.N. Human Rights Commission strongly criticized the Government on several occasions over its refusal to grant immunity to U.N. Special Rapporteur Param Cumaraswamy (see Section 1.e.).
In December a delegation from the Interparliamentary Union investigating the imprisonment of Lim Guan Eng (see Section 2.a.) stated that it regretted the Government‚s lack of cooperation. The delegation described the Government‚s conduct as very unusual and stated that it had not been granted appropriate appointments with government officials or permitted to visit privately with Lim Guan Eng. The Government made no public response.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution provides for equal protection under the law and prohibits discrimination against citizens on the basis of religion, race, descent, or place of birth. Although neither the Constitution nor laws explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex or disabilities, the Government has made efforts to eliminate discrimination against women and promote greater public acceptance of the disabled. Government policies give preferences to ethnic Malays in housing, home ownership, the awarding of government contracts, educational scholarships, and other areas.
Reports of rape are common in the press and among women's rights groups and NGO‚s, although the Government has not released comprehensive statistics. The press reported in May that 94 Government hospitals had set up crisis centers where victims of rape and domestic abuse could make reports without going to a police station. NGO‚s and political parties also cooperated in providing counseling for rape victims. Nonetheless, cultural attitudes and a perceived lack of sympathy from the largely male police force lead many victims not to report rapes.
Spousal abuse is a serious problem that has drawn considerable government, NGO, and press attention. Awareness of the severity and prevalence of this problem is growing. Police in 1997 (the last year for which statistics have been published) investigated 5,730 cases of spousal abuse, made 800 arrests, and charged 693 suspects, of whom 495 were tried and 198 sentenced. The 1996 Domestic Violence Act was designed to address spousal abuse. However, women's groups criticized the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act as inadequate. Obtaining a restraining order against an abusive spouse is a lengthy and cumbersome procedure. Moreover, enforcement of the order is split between the police and the Welfare Department so that violations often go unpunished.
Although the Government, NGO‚s, and political parties have formed shelters and offer other assistance for battered spouses, activists assert that support mechanisms remain inadequate. Police responses to complaints of domestic violence were more professional and sensitive than in previous years, but problems remain and cultural attitudes are still an impediment. For example, in late 1997 a (male) government deputy minister joked about spousal abuse in remarks to Parliament.
The relation of the Domestic Violence Act to Shari‚a (Islamic) law is still unclear. Domestic violence complaints are rare in Shari‚a courts (six cases in 1997). Some Shari‚a law experts have urged women to be more aware of the provisions of Shari‚a law that prohibit spousal abuse and provide for divorces on grounds of physical cruelty. Nonetheless, Shari‚a law generally (each state has a separate Shari‚a code) prohibits wives from disobeying lawful orders of their husbands. These provisions often present an obstacle to women pursuing claims, including charges of abuse, against their husbands.
Spousal rape is not a crime in Malaysia, although presumably it might form one element of a charge of spousal abuse.
An International Labor Organization (ILO) study estimated that roughly 40,000 to 140,000 prostitutes work in Malaysia. The Government heatedly disputed this estimate and the police stated that they would investigate NGO‚s that might have provided information that formed the basis of the study. Sex tourism is not legal, and the level of such activity is not high.
Malaysia is a source, transit, and destination country for trafficking in women for sexual exploitation. In May the Deputy Home Affairs Minister stated that 2,250 foreign prostitutes had been arrested in Malaysia. Indonesian, Philippine, Thai, and Chinese women make up the bulk of foreign prostitutes. Malaysian women have been apprehended for prostitution in several foreign countries. The Deputy Home Affairs Minister stated in May that 4,200 Malaysian girls and young women were reported missing in 1997. Political parties and NGO‚s estimate that a significant portion of these women and girls were victims of traffickers.
A few government officials may provide bogus documents illicitly to traffickers (although no specific cases were reported), but the Government investigates and punishes such cases. The Government provides assistance to underage girls and has rescued some kidnaped women. However, NGO‚s and women's activists complain that police have no coherent policy to protect victims of trafficking. Rather than prosecute traffickers, police generally arrest or deport individual women for prostitution. In June the press quoted an anonymous police official as saying that Malaysia had become a "safe haven" for traffickers. A police spokesman asked for official comment responded by questioning whether press reporting on trafficking of women was in the national interest.
A women‚s NGO stated in late October that the economic downturn was forcing more women into prostitution. The NGO cited government statistics showing an upturn in the number of arrests for prostitution. A government source disputed this claim saying that the increase in arrests was due to more vigorous enforcement.
Sexual harassment received some attention in the press and in the Government. The Minister of National Unity and Social Development announced in July that the Government would set up a panel of government, NGO, and educational representatives aimed at providing the basis for enactment of a law on sexual harassment. Several sexual harassment cases (filed under current laws providing for the protection of women) were reported in the press, as was information advising women of their right not to be harassed. Until a sexual harassment law comes into effect, the legal basis for sexual harassment charges remains inadequate. In addition, there are still many cultural obstacles to women who try to pursue sexual harassment charges. The Ministry of Human Resources stated in August that it had received reports of only six sexual harassment cases in the first 6 months of the year (the most recent statistics available) and only a total of about 30 since 1996.
Women are still victims of legal discrimination. The cultural and religious traditions of the major ethnic groups also heavily influence the condition of women in society. In family and religious matters, Muslim women are subject to Islamic law. Polygyny is allowed and practiced to a limited degree, and inheritance law favors male offspring and relatives. The Islamic Family Law was revised in 1989 to provide better protection for the property rights of married Muslim women and to make more equitable a Muslim woman's right to divorce. The number of women obtaining divorces under the provisions of Islamic law that allow for divorce without the husband's consent, while small, is increasing steadily.
Non-Muslim women are subject to civil law. Changes in the Civil Marriage and Divorce Act in the early 1980's increased protection of married women's rights, especially those married under customary rites. Nonetheless, many statutes like the Guardianship of Infants Act and the Women and Girls Protection Act still provide for paternalistic or discriminatory treatment of women.
Government policy supports women's rights and the Government has undertaken a number of initiatives to promote equality for women. Specifically, the Government promotes the full and equal participation of women in education and the work force. Women are represented in growing numbers in the professions, but women's groups argue that the level of participation is still disproportionately low. In the scientific and medical fields, women make up more than half of all university graduates and the total intake of women into universities increased from 29 percent in 1970 to one-half of the student population in recent years. The participation of women in the labor force increased from 37 percent in 1970 to almost one-half in 1997.
The Government has demonstrated a commitment to children's rights and welfare; it spends roughly 20 percent of its budget on education. The Government provides free compulsory education for children through age 15. Actual attendance at primary school is nearly universal (99 percent). Secondary school attendance also is high (82 percent). A variety of programs provide low cost health care for most children. An office in the Ministry of National Unity and Social Development oversees children's issues.
In October the Government threatened to use the Children‚s Protection Act to take children away from parents who brought their children to opposition demonstrations (see Section 2.b.). However, as of year‚s end, no such action had been taken.
Sexual exploitation of children and incest are problems. In 1997 police announced a special effort to prosecute the crime of incest, which is particularly a problem in rural areas. Child labor also exists. Child abuse receives wide coverage in the press. The Government prosecutes cases of child abuse and child molesters receive heavy jail sentences and caning. The Ministry of National Unity and Social Development reported that in 1997 there were 1,117 reported cases of child abuse, while from January through August there were 600 cases.
Many Malay female children receive a tiny ritual cut to the clitoris. Almost all Malay women, including Muslim women's activists, do not believe that this constitutes mutilation or reduces a woman's future capacity for sexual pleasure.
Statutory rape occurs. Prosecution of statutory rape is sometimes complicated by Shari‚a law provisions that consider a Muslim girl an adult after she has had her first menstruation. Such a girl can be charged with "khalwat" ("close proximity"--the charge usually used to prosecute premarital or extramarital sexual relations) even if she is under 18 and the man is an adult. Moreover, Shari‚a courts sometimes are more lenient with males who commit khalwat. Thus, Shari‚a law sometimes punishes the victims of statutory rape. For example, in May the press reported that two girls were caught having sexual relations with an adult male. The male and the two girls were all charged with khalwat in Shari‚a court. The underage girls received a sentence of 3 years in a correctional home, while the adult male was sentenced to a fine of $263 (1,000 ringgit). Women's groups criticized the decision. In another case in November, four boys and two girls were arrested for allegedly engaging in group sex. A judge set bail at approximately $132 (500 ringgit) for each of the boys and approximately $263 (1,000 ringgit) for each of the girls. No reason for the discrepancy in the amount of the bail was given.
Child prostitution exists. However, child prostitutes often are treated as delinquents rather than victims. The Minister of National Unity and Social Development stated in September that 150 to 160 underage girls are detained "each year" for involvement in immoral activities and sent to rehabilitation centers. Authorities prosecute traffickers in child prostitution vigorously. Statistics for apprehension of traffickers are not available.
People With Disabilities
The Government does not discriminate against physically disabled persons in employment, education, and provision of other state services. However, few public facilities are adapted to the needs of the disabled, and the Government has not mandated accessibility to transportation or public buildings for the disabled. Special education schools exist, but they are not sufficient to meet the needs of the disabled population. The Government and the general public are becoming more sensitive to the needs of the physically disabled. The Government has taken many initiatives to promote public acceptance of the disabled, to make public facilities more accessible to disabled persons, and to increase budgetary allotments for programs aimed at aiding them. New commuter trains, for example, are wheelchair accessible. The Government also provides incentives for employers to offer employment opportunities to the disabled.
Indigenous groups and persons generally enjoy the same constitutional rights as the rest of the population. In practice, however, federal laws pertaining to indigenous people vest almost total power in the Minister of National Unity and Social Development to protect, control, and otherwise decide issues concerning them. As a result, indigenous people have very little ability to participate in decisions. Under the Aboriginal People's Act, indigenous people (known as Orang Asli) in peninsular Malaysia who had been granted land on a group basis had no right to own land on an individual basis or to receive titles to land. The Social Development Ministry announced in March 1996 that state governments, which make decisions affecting land rights, had agreed to issue titles to Orang Asli. Amendments were drafted to enable Orang Asli to hold titles on an individual basis. Some Orang Asli welcomed this development while others expressed reservations, saying that individual land titles might divide and weaken Orang Asli communities. Government officials stated in 1998 that further amendments to the Aboriginal People's Act were unnecessary.
The indigenous people in peninsular Malaysia, who number fewer than 100,000, are the poorest group in the country; however, according to government officials, Orang Asli gradually are catching up to other citizens in their standard of living, and the percentage of Orang Asli who still were leading a nomadic lifestyle has dropped to less than 40 percent. The Government has said that allowing Orang Asli to own land in peninsular Malaysia would enhance their economic standing.
In east Malaysia, although state law recognizes the right of indigenous people to land under "native customary rights," the definition and extent of these lands are in dispute. Indigenous people in the state of Sarawak continued to protest the alleged encroachment by state and private logging and plantation companies onto land that they consider theirs because of customary rights. Laws allowing condemnation and purchase of land do not require more than perfunctory notifications in newspapers to which indigenous people may have no access. The net result is that many indigenous people are deprived of their traditional lands with little or no legal recourse. A large project (Bakun dam) in Sarawak that would involve resettlement of a large number of residents in the area has raised several controversial questions regarding land disputes as well as potential environmental problems. NGO‚s and opposition politicians have called on the Government to address these issues before proceeding with the project. Although economic conditions forced indefinite postponement of dam construction, resettlement continues.
In March Hindus and Muslims had a violent confrontation in a Penang village over the location of a Hindu temple near a mosque. Police quickly restored order and handled the issue evenhandedly. The Government has since devoted considerable effort to resolving the underlying dispute.
The Government implements extensive preferential programs designed to boost the economic position of the Malay majority, which remains poorer on average than the Chinese minority. Such preferential programs and policies limit opportunities for non-Malays in higher education, government employment, business permits and licenses, and ownership of land. According to the Government, these programs have been instrumental in ensuring ethnic harmony and political stability. Indian Malaysians continue to lag behind in the country's economic development.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
By law most workers have the right to engage in trade union activity, and approximately 11 percent of the work force belongs to trade unions. Exceptions include certain limited categories of workers labeled "confidential" and "managerial and executive," as well as defense and police officials. Within certain limitations, unions may organize workplaces, bargain collectively with employers, and associate with national federations. Foreign workers are not allowed to join trade unions (see Section 6.e.).
The Trade Unions Act prohibits interfering with, restraining, or coercing a worker in the exercise of the right to form trade unions or in participating in lawful trade union activities. However, the act restricts a union to representing workers in a "particular establishment, trade, occupation, or industry or within any similar trades, occupations, or industries," contrary to ILO guidelines. The director general of trade unions may refuse to register a trade union and, in some circumstances, may also withdraw the registration of a trade union. When registration has been refused, withdrawn, or canceled, a trade union is considered an unlawful association. The Government justifies its overall labor policies by positing that a "social compact" exists wherein the Government, employer, and worker are part of an overall effort to create jobs, train workers, boost productivity and profitability, and ultimately provide the resources necessary to fund human resource development and a national social safety net. Trade unions from different industries may join in national congresses, but must register as societies under the Societies Act (see Section 2.b.).
Government policy discourages the formation of national unions in the electronics sector; the Government believes that enterprise-level unions are more appropriate for this sector. In 1997 the Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) dropped its long-standing objection to restricting the electronics sector to enterprise-level unions. The MTUC stated that it would be better for the workers to have the in-house unions "than none at all."
Unions maintain independence both from the Government and from political parties, but individual union members may belong to political parties. Although union officers may not hold principal offices in political parties, individual trade union leaders have served in Parliament as opposition members. Trade unions are free to associate with national labor societies, which exercise many of the responsibilities of national labor unions, although they cannot bargain for local unions. In l997 longtime labor leader Zainal Rampak joined the ruling party, and in December was appointed to the Senate.
Although strikes are legal, the right to strike is restricted severely. The law contains a list of "essential services" in which unions must give advance notice of any industrial action. The list includes sectors not normally deemed essential under ILO definitions.
The Industrial Relations Act of 1967 requires the parties to notify the Ministry of Human Resources that a dispute exists before any industrial action (strike or lockout) may be taken. The Ministry's Industrial Relations Department then may become involved actively in conciliation efforts. If conciliation fails to achieve settlement, the Minister has the power to refer the dispute to the Industrial Court. Strikes or lockouts are prohibited while the dispute is before the Industrial Court. The Industrial Relations Act prohibits employers from taking retribution against a worker for participating in the lawful activities of a trade union. Where a strike is legal, these provisions would prohibit employer retribution against strikers and leaders. Although some trade unions question their effectiveness, it is not possible to assess fully whether these provisions are being enforced effectively, given the limited number of cases of alleged retribution. Strikes are extremely rare.
There are two national labor organizations. The MTUC is a federation of mainly private sector unions. CUEPACS is a federation of civil servant and teacher unions. Public servants have the right to organize at the level of ministries and departments. There are three national joint councils representing management and professional civil servants, technical employees, and non-technical workers.
In September the Government announced plans to include foreign workers in the National Workers Compensation Scheme. Exclusion of foreign workers from this scheme had been a longstanding concern of the ILO.
Enterprise unions can associate with international labor bodies and actively do so.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Workers have the legal right to organize and bargain collectively, and collective bargaining is widespread in those sectors where labor is organized. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers against union members and organizers. Charges of discrimination may be filed with the Ministry of Human Resources or the Industrial Court. Critics say that the Industrial Court is slow in adjudicating worker complaints when conciliation efforts by the Ministry of Human Resources fail. However, other critics point out that the Industrial Court almost always sides with the workers in disputes.
Companies in free trade zones (FTZ's) must observe labor standards identical to those in the rest of the country. Many workers at FTZ companies are organized, especially in the textile and electrical products sectors. The ILO continues to object to legal restrictions on collective bargaining in "pioneer industries."
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and the Government enforces this prohibition. In theory, certain laws allow the use of imprisonment with compulsory labor as a punishment for persons who express views opposed to the established order or who participate in strikes. The Government maintains that the constitutional prohibition renders these laws without effect. However, some women and girls were forced into prostitution by traffickers in women for sexual exploitation (see Section 5).
The constitutional prohibition applies as well to forced and bonded labor by children. The press reported in April the case 15-year-old girl forced into bonded labor to settle a debt of her parents. Police rescued the girl. Bonded labor is rare and not condoned by the Government.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
The Children and Young Persons (Employment) Act of 1966 prohibits the employment of children younger than the age of 14. The act permits some exceptions, such as light work in a family enterprise, work in public entertainment, work performed for the Government in a school or training institutions, or work as an approved apprentice. In no case may children work more than 6 hours per day, more than 6 days per week, or at night.
Child labor occurs in certain sectors of the country. A 1993 joint report by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the Asian and Pacific Regional Organization put the child work force at 75,000. However, government officials maintain that this figure is outdated, since it was based on a nationwide survey of child labor undertaken in 1980, which estimated that more than 73,400 children between the ages of 10 and 14 were employed full time. There is no reliable recent estimate of the number of child workers. Most child laborers work in the urban informal sector in food businesses, night markets, and small-scale industries, as well as on rubber and palm oil plantations. Government officials do not deny the existence of child labor but maintain that foreign workers largely have replaced child labor and that the Government vigorously enforces child labor provisions. Forced and bonded labor by children is constitutionally prohibited and is not common. Child prostitution exists (see Sections 5 and 6.c.).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There is no national minimum wage, but the Wage Councils Act provides for a minimum wage in those sectors or regions of the country where a need exists. Under the law, workers in an industry who believe that they need the protection of a minimum wage may request that a wage council be established. Few workers are now covered by minimum wages set by wage councils and the Government prefers to let market forces determine wage rates. Minimum wages set by wage councils generally do not provide for a decent standard of living for a worker and family. However, prevailing wages, even in the sectors covered by wage councils, are higher than the minimum wages set by the wage councils and do provide a decent living.
Under the Employment Act of 1955, working hours may not exceed 8 hours per day or 48 hours per workweek of 6 days. Each workweek must include one 24-hour rest period. The act also sets overtime rates and mandates public holidays, annual leave, sick leave, and maternity allowances. The Labor Department of the Ministry of Human Resources enforces these standards, but a shortage of inspectors precludes strict enforcement.
Foreign workers, approximately one-forth of the work force, are not allowed to join trade unions. The MTUC stated in 1997 that foreign workers should be unionized. The Government responded that it did not "encourage" foreign workers to join unions and that labor laws were adequate to protect foreign workers‚ interests.
Significant numbers of contract workers, including numerous illegal immigrants, work on plantations and in other sectors. Working conditions on plantations for these laborers compare poorly with those of direct hire plantation workers, many of whom belong to the National Union of Plantation Workers. Moreover, immigrant workers in the construction and other sectors, particularly if they are illegal aliens, generally do not have access to the system of labor adjudication. Government investigations into this problem have resulted in a number of steps to eliminate the abuse of contract labor. For example, besides expanding programs to regularize the status of immigrant workers, the Government investigates complaints of abuses, endeavors to inform workers of their rights, encourages workers to come forward with their complaints, and warns employers to end abuses. Like other employers, labor contractors may be prosecuted for violating the labor laws.
In 1993 Parliament adopted an Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), which covers all sectors of the economy, except the maritime sector and the military. The act established a national Occupational Safety and Health Council, composed of workers, employers, and government representatives, to set policy and coordinate occupational safety and health measures. It requires employers to identify risks and take precautions, including providing safety training to workers, and compels companies that have more than 40 workers to establish joint management-employee safety committees. The act requires workers to use safety equipment and to cooperate with employers to create a safe, healthy workplace. Trade unions maintain that relatively few committees have been established and, even in cases where they exist, that they meet infrequently and generally are ineffective.
There are no specific statutory or regulatory provisions that provide a right for workers to remove themselves from dangerous workplace conditions without arbitrary dismissal. Employers or employees violating the OSHA are subject to substantial fines or imprisonment for up to 5 years.
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