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Suaram: Freedom of expression 'better, but not great' after May 9

Wong Kai Hui  |  Published:

There is greater freedom of expression in the country since Pakatan Harapan came into power last May, but also much room for improvement, according to Suaram project coordinator Dobby Chew.

"In 2018, freedom of expression started off very repressive," he said at the unveiling of Suaram's 2018 Malaysia Human Rights Report today.

"But I think everyone can agree that in May, June, July, there was actually a free period for all. There were no forms of restriction at that point in time. People felt very free to speak up.

"Heading into August, our independence month, we started seeing some people who commented or critiqued the royal institution, and people that humiliated or insulted religion, get arrested.

"So far, compared to the past it is still better, but it's just not great," he added.

Chew also expressed his regret that Putrajaya's move to impose a moratorium on the Sedition Act 1948 last October was withdrawn just a month later, in the wake of the riots that took place near the Seafield Sri Mahamariamman Temple in Subang Jaya.

He also pointed out that peaceful assemblies have been met with less police obstruction since last August.

"One of the biggest changes that we can observe is that the police never said 'OK, fine, go ahead' before, but that has changed nowadays.

"When there is a notice given, things are done in order, they will just say 'Yes sure, go ahead.'"


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Chew also praised the police for providing the necessary support for peaceful assemblies, but also noted that they are sticking to their old pattern of conducting post-rally investigations.

The 2018 Malaysia Human Rights Report was launched by Suaram advisers Kua Kia Soong and Farida Mohd, Chew as well as Attorney-General Tommy Thomas.

The 190-page report documents the human rights situation in Malaysia last year.

As Chew highlighted, the problem of detention without trial and chain remand remains, and there have been no updates on the reform, repeal or amendments of the laws that allow for detention without trial.

These include the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, Prevention of Crime Act 1959, Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015, and the Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Measures) Act 1985.

According to Suaram's media monitoring or case management, a total of 235 cases of detention without trial were documented in 2018.

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