Malaysia considers jail for life and cane strokes for whistleblowers, journalists

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Rattan stick used for caning in Malaysia

Malaysia’s new Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali, who was hand-picked for the role by Prime Minister Najib Razak in July last year and just cleared the latter of any wrongdoing in connection with a mysterious $681-million transfer to Razak’s private bank accounts, is mulling drastic steps against what he considers to be “leaking official secrets” by whistleblowers and, particularly, journalists.

He said he was looking into the possibility of amending Malaysia’s Official Secrets Act 1972 to include the punishments of life imprisonment and ten strokes of the cane for “leaking confidential information that would affect the government’s administration and may even pose a threat to our security and economy” and thus would “endanger the country.”

He added that these charges would extend to journalists found “protecting or refusing to disclose their sources,” in which case the would be considered “collaborating with a potential saboteur.”

Sin Chew Daily
Interview with the Malaysian Attorney General in Sin Chew Daily

“I am not joking. If I have 90 per cent of evidence, I will charge the journalist, editor, assistant editor and editor-in-chief. I am serious, no kidding. We have had too many leaks,” he told Chinese-language Sin Chew Daily in an interview published on February 7, referring to similar laws in China where such offenses could even carry the death sentence.

“The right to know is not granted by the constitution,” he argued.

It was not immediately clear whether this law would also enclose foreign journalists in the country or those who publish critical stories outside Malaysia and would have to fear detention once they enter the country.

Apandi did, however, not rule out initiating criminal defamation charges against London-based Sarawak Report and US-based Wall Street Journal – two media outlets that have a particularly critical stance towards the Malaysian ruling elite – should he obtain “90 per cent evidence”.

A Malaysian journalist contacted by Investvine, who didn’t want his name to be revealed for the above reasons, said that Apandi’s idea “completely contradicts functional democratic principles, as well as substantive human rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of torture.”

“That way it would be quite risky to write that – just shortly after Apandi cleared the prime minister of corruption allegations – he was appointed to the board of directors of Lembaga Tabung Haji, Malaysia’s state-owned pilgrim fund, which according to a leaked letter from the Central Bank has severe liquidity problems, including a $230-million bond exposure to highly indebted, Razak-chaired 1Malaysia Development Berhad,” he gave an example.

Human rights debate

Malaysia, however, never signed the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights which includes the above two basic rights, although scholars are of the opinion that the country should adhere to it as it is a member of the United Nations.

In fact, the right to freedom of speech and expression is enshrined under Article 10 of Malaysia’s Federal Constitution, but it reserves the right for the parliament to impose by law wide-ranging restrictions as per Clauses 2 and 4.

But Prime Minister Razak last year said that Malaysia would uphold human rights “only within the Islamic context,” which of course opens much room for interpretation of these rights.

Non-profit organisation Human Rights Watch said that if Malaysia was not serious about upholding human rights in their entirety and for all but adapt them as it pleases then it consequently should resign from the United Nations altogether.

The Malaysian branch of the Center for Independent Journalism, an organisation whose call is “to aspire for a society that is democratic, just and free,” in a release on February 7 heavily criticised Apandi’s idea as being “the latest assault” against the right to freedom of expression and information [in Malaysia].

“This is an indicator of a government which is intolerant of criticism and fearful of accountability, and a case of shooting the messenger to distract from the real issue at hand, which is good governance and transparency in a working democracy,” the release read.

“It is also signalling a government which is using all laws at its disposal to restrict and clamp down on our right to freedom of expression,” it went on saying.

The center pointed out that Malaysia’s constitution does entail the right to information, “or in more common language, the right to know,” rejecting Apandi’s comment that there was no constitutionally granted right-to-know in Malaysia.

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

Rattan stick used for caning in Malaysia

Malaysia’s new Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali, who was hand-picked for the role by Prime Minister Najib Razak in July last year and just cleared the latter of any wrongdoing in connection with a mysterious $681-million transfer to Razak’s private bank accounts, is mulling drastic steps against what he considers to be “leaking official secrets” by whistleblowers and, particularly, journalists.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Rotan
Rattan stick used for caning in Malaysia

Malaysia’s new Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali, who was hand-picked for the role by Prime Minister Najib Razak in July last year and just cleared the latter of any wrongdoing in connection with a mysterious $681-million transfer to Razak’s private bank accounts, is mulling drastic steps against what he considers to be “leaking official secrets” by whistleblowers and, particularly, journalists.

He said he was looking into the possibility of amending Malaysia’s Official Secrets Act 1972 to include the punishments of life imprisonment and ten strokes of the cane for “leaking confidential information that would affect the government’s administration and may even pose a threat to our security and economy” and thus would “endanger the country.”

He added that these charges would extend to journalists found “protecting or refusing to disclose their sources,” in which case the would be considered “collaborating with a potential saboteur.”

Sin Chew Daily
Interview with the Malaysian Attorney General in Sin Chew Daily

“I am not joking. If I have 90 per cent of evidence, I will charge the journalist, editor, assistant editor and editor-in-chief. I am serious, no kidding. We have had too many leaks,” he told Chinese-language Sin Chew Daily in an interview published on February 7, referring to similar laws in China where such offenses could even carry the death sentence.

“The right to know is not granted by the constitution,” he argued.

It was not immediately clear whether this law would also enclose foreign journalists in the country or those who publish critical stories outside Malaysia and would have to fear detention once they enter the country.

Apandi did, however, not rule out initiating criminal defamation charges against London-based Sarawak Report and US-based Wall Street Journal – two media outlets that have a particularly critical stance towards the Malaysian ruling elite – should he obtain “90 per cent evidence”.

A Malaysian journalist contacted by Investvine, who didn’t want his name to be revealed for the above reasons, said that Apandi’s idea “completely contradicts functional democratic principles, as well as substantive human rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of torture.”

“That way it would be quite risky to write that – just shortly after Apandi cleared the prime minister of corruption allegations – he was appointed to the board of directors of Lembaga Tabung Haji, Malaysia’s state-owned pilgrim fund, which according to a leaked letter from the Central Bank has severe liquidity problems, including a $230-million bond exposure to highly indebted, Razak-chaired 1Malaysia Development Berhad,” he gave an example.

Human rights debate

Malaysia, however, never signed the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights which includes the above two basic rights, although scholars are of the opinion that the country should adhere to it as it is a member of the United Nations.

In fact, the right to freedom of speech and expression is enshrined under Article 10 of Malaysia’s Federal Constitution, but it reserves the right for the parliament to impose by law wide-ranging restrictions as per Clauses 2 and 4.

But Prime Minister Razak last year said that Malaysia would uphold human rights “only within the Islamic context,” which of course opens much room for interpretation of these rights.

Non-profit organisation Human Rights Watch said that if Malaysia was not serious about upholding human rights in their entirety and for all but adapt them as it pleases then it consequently should resign from the United Nations altogether.

The Malaysian branch of the Center for Independent Journalism, an organisation whose call is “to aspire for a society that is democratic, just and free,” in a release on February 7 heavily criticised Apandi’s idea as being “the latest assault” against the right to freedom of expression and information [in Malaysia].

“This is an indicator of a government which is intolerant of criticism and fearful of accountability, and a case of shooting the messenger to distract from the real issue at hand, which is good governance and transparency in a working democracy,” the release read.

“It is also signalling a government which is using all laws at its disposal to restrict and clamp down on our right to freedom of expression,” it went on saying.

The center pointed out that Malaysia’s constitution does entail the right to information, “or in more common language, the right to know,” rejecting Apandi’s comment that there was no constitutionally granted right-to-know in Malaysia.

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