U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2000 - Malaysia
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||26 February 2001|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2000 - Malaysia , 26 February 2001, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa968.html [accessed 1 February 2015]|
|Comments||This report is submitted to the Congress by the Department of State in compliance with sections 116(d) and 502(b) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA), as amended, and section 504 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended. The law provides that the Secretary of State shall transmit to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, by February 25 "a full and complete report regarding the status of internationally recognized human rights, within the meaning of subsection (A) in countries that receive assistance under this part, and (B) in all other foreign countries which are members of the United Nations and which are not otherwise the subject of a human rights report under this Act." We have also included reports on several countries that do not fall into the categories established by these statutes and that thus are not covered by the congressional requirement.|
Malaysia is a federation of 13 states and 3 federal territories with a parliamentary system of government based on periodic multiparty elections in which the ruling National Front coalition has held power for more than 40 years. Opposition parties actively contest elections, but face significant obstacles in competing with the long-entrenched ruling coalition. However, in the November 1999 elections, opposition parties won roughly 25 percent of the seats in the Federal Parliament, and an opposition party also retained control of one state government and gained control of another. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, government action, constitutional amendments, legislation, and other factors undermine judicial independence and strengthen executive influence over the judiciary. The impartiality of the judiciary continued to be a concern during the year, although the December appointments of a highly regarded new Chief Justice and Attorney General were viewed with optimism by most observers.
The Royal Malaysian Police have primary responsibility for internal security matters. The police report to and are under the effective control of the Home Minister. Some members of the police committed human rights abuses.
Malaysia is an advanced developing country with an estimated per capita gross domestic product of $3,640 and an unemployment rate of 3.0 percent. Following nearly a decade of strong economic growth averaging over 8 percent annually, it was hit hard by the 1997 regional financial and economic crisis. After contracting by 7.5 percent in 1998, the economy began to recover in 1999, during which it posted a 5.8 percent growth rate. Analysts predicted a 7 to 8 percent growth for the year. During 1998 the Government adopted stimulative fiscal and monetary policies to promote economic recovery and established institutions to recapitalize distressed financial institutions and to remove nonperforming loans from the banking system. It also enacted selected capital controls to eliminate offshore trading in the local currency (ringgit) and to insulate the domestic economy from the effects of short-term, speculative capital flows. The Government takes an active role in the development of the export-oriented economy. Manufacturing accounts for 30.0 percent of GDP, services for 54.3 percent, agriculture for 9.4 percent, construction for 3.6 percent, and mining for 7.2 percent. 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.
The Government generally respected its citizens' rights in some areas; however, its record was poor in a number of other areas, and significant problems remain. Police committed a number of extrajudicial killings; however, authorities prosecuted the perpetrators in some of these cases. Police on occasion tortured, beat, or otherwise abused prisoners, detainees, and demonstrators. The former chief of police was sentenced to 2 months imprisonment for having beaten the handcuffed and blindfolded former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim in 1998. In 1999, an Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) delegation found that prison conditions were not in accord with international norms; the Government subsequently took some steps to improve prison conditions. Conditions in the detention facilities of illegal aliens continued to pose a threat to life and health, although marginal improvements in food and water rations were reported. The trial of a prominent human rights activist on charges arising from her criticisms of such conditions continued. Police continued to use several statutes to arrest and detain many persons without charge or trial. Prolonged pretrial detention is a serious problem. Detained criminal suspects often were denied access to legal counsel prior to being charged formally. Many observers expressed serious doubts about the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, especially in high-profile cases. Former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar was charged with corruption in 1998 for political reasons, and was convicted and sentenced to 6 years in prison in April 1999. In August he was convicted of sodomy and sentenced to 9 years, to be served consecutively with the earlier 6-year sentence. Improper conduct by the police and prosecutors, along with many questionable rulings by the judge, denied Anwar a fair opportunity to defend himself. Anwar remained in prison at year's end, but he was transferred to a hospital in December to receive treatment for a slipped disk in his back. Politically motivated, selective prosecution continued to be a concern during the year. The courts continued to defy most of a 1999 International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling that a U.N. Special Rapporteur was immune from several libel suits. Authorities infringed on citizens' privacy rights in some instances.
Government restrictions, pressure, and intimidation led to a high degree of press self-censorship. The Government raided newsstands that sold an opposition party newspaper, limited its publication, and refused to renew the publication permits of several other political weeklies. Independent on-line newspapers operated without government interference. In 1999 a U.N. Special Rapporteur reported that the Government systematically curtailed freedom of expression. The Government did not respond to the report by year's end. Proliferating slander and libel suits threatened to stifle freedom of speech. The Government placed some restrictions on freedom of assembly and some peaceful gatherings. The Government continues to restrict significantly freedom of association. The Government continued to prohibit students from participating in some political activities. The Government places some restrictions on religious freedom, in particular the right of Muslims to practice teachings other than Sunni Islam. In addition the right of Muslims to change their religion was hindered by many practical obstacles. The Government continued to impose some restrictions on freedom of movement. Government policies create significant restrictions on opposition parties' ability to compete effectively with the ruling coalition. The Election Commission's lack of independence impedes it from effectively enforcing election results and monitoring elections. The Government continued to criticize harshly human rights NGO's, but also met with several such groups during the year. The Government established a National Human Rights Commission in April. Despite some limitations on its scope, the Commission established several human rights working groups, publicly supported the right of peaceful assembly in certain instances, and in December opened a public inquiry into alleged police misconduct during a November 5 opposition gathering. Despite government efforts, societal violence and discrimination against women remain problems. Sexual abuse of children is a problem, although it is punished severely. Indigenous people face discrimination and often are exploited, especially in regard to land issues. Longstanding policies give preferences to ethnic Malays in many areas, and ethnic minorities face discrimination. Some restrictions on worker rights persist. Child labor persists, although the Government has taken vigorous action against it. The country is a source, transit, and destination country for trafficking in women and girls for the purpose of forced prostitution.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
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. Police leadership continued efforts to curb such abuses during the year, including by inviting the U.N. Human Rights Commission to provide human rights training to police officers.
At year's end, the press reported that the police had killed 49 persons (in 27 separate incidents) during the course of apprehension. Press accounts suggested that police conduct was appropriate in a number of these incidents; however, several cases raised concerns.
In January 1999, the Bar Council called on the police to implement a standard procedure to investigate every lethal shooting by police; however, the police did not implement such a procedure. By year's end the Government had not formed an independent commission to investigate police killings, as was recommended by a group of 119 domestic NGO's in February 1999. In October 1999, the Deputy Home Minister informed Parliament that police had shot and killed 387 persons over the past 5 years. In April police shot and killed three suspected robbers in waters off Sabah state during an antipiracy campaign. In August police shot and killed three men in Sabah whom police suspected were on their way to commit a robbery. Also in August, police shot and killed a suspected arsonist who reportedly attacked them with a knife. In several incidents throughout the year, police shot and killed individuals who they claimed had "run amok" and threatened bystanders. At year's end, the results of any police internal investigations into these and other incidents of police extrajudicial killings during the year were not available.
A Human Rights Watch report issued in August on the status of Burmese Rohingya illegal immigrants in the country documented allegations of deaths during the 1990's in illegal immigrant detention camps due to beatings and inhuman conditions such as inadequate food and medical care (see Sections 1.c. and 2.d.). The conditions in the camps remained a cause for concern; however, there were no reports of similar deaths during the year.
There were developments in several cases of extrajudicial killings from previous years. The case of a policeman charged in 1999 with culpable homicide not amounting to murder for shooting a doctor seated in his car went to trial. In December the policeman was sentenced to 8 years in prison by the sessions court for causing the death of the person. The policeman has appealed the decision to the High Court. In August a coroner ruled that four police officers and one civilian were culpable in the 1995 death of a youth in police custody. A negligence suit against the police regarding the death of a couple shot by police in 1998 in connection with the alleged kidnaping of the son of a state chief minister was to be heard in November, but it was postponed to a future date that had not been determined by year's end. In July testimony during a coroner's inquiry indicated that six men who were killed by police in a 1998 incident had been shot in the head at close range. In April the police announced that an inquiry would be made into the case of a 21-year-old who died in police custody in 1999. In May a woman filed suit against police for the death of her husband in police custody in 1999 and said publicly that her husband's death might be linked to his involvement with the opposition National Justice Party. A domestic worker who sued the government and the then-Inspector General of Police in 1992 over the death of her son in police custody in 1990 was awarded a judgment of just over $10,000 (40,000 ringgit). In May two policemen convicted of injuring an Indonesian illegal immigrant who later died in police custody were sentenced to 3 years in prison.
In June Acehnese leader Teauku Don Zulfari, exiled from Indonesia, was shot and killed in a Kuala Lumpur restaurant. The press speculated that the assailants were either gangsters or political rivals from Aceh.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
In late April, members of the Filipino terrorist group Abu Sayyef attacked a diving resort on the island of Sipadan, seizing several hostages of various nationalities. The group released all of the hostages but one, a Filipino national, who was being held in the Philippines at year's end.
In early September, four armed Abu Sayyaf rebels kidnaped three Malaysian hostages at the Pasir Dive Resort on Pulau Pandanan in Sabah state. All three hostages had been released at year's end.
In both instances, the Government made attempts to retrieve hostages and prevent further attacks.
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, at times some police tortured, beat, and otherwise abused prisoners, detainees, and other citizens. The authorities investigated some police and other officials for such abuses; however, the Government does not release routinely information on the results of investigations, and whether those responsible are punished is not always known.
Police sometimes abuse detainees. There were several press reports of persons who alleged police torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment while in custody. For example, in April a 16-year-old schoolboy sued the police, alleging that he was tortured after a February arrest in connection with an arson case. In October a suspected robber claimed that police had shot him in the eye during an interrogation. He reportedly then was ordered to tell doctors that he had been in an accident. In November a man claimed that police had squeezed his genitals with pliers in order to make him confess to a theft. All of the cases were under investigation at year's end.
Police sometimes subjected criminal suspects and illegal alien detainees to physical and psychological torture during interrogation and detention. During the 1998 trial of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, senior police officers testified that the police had institutionalized techniques to subject some "national security" detainees to coercive and abusive treatment. A senior police officer said that the police did not consider the legality of such tactics. However, the Government continued to require police to attend community relations and ethics courses to address public concerns over police misconduct. The results of such courses were unclear at year's end.
In March former Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Rahim Noor was sentenced to 2 months in jail and ordered to pay the maximum fine of about $525 (2,000 ringgit) for "causing hurt" after pleading guilty to beating former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim in 1998 while Anwar was blindfolded and handcuffed in police custody. The beating badly bruised Anwar's face, neck, and arms, and reportedly temporarily left him with impaired balance and unclear vision. Rahim said that Anwar had provoked him. Charges of attempted assault were reduced as part of a plea bargain. Rahim paid the fine, but his lawyers immediately appealed the sentence, and he remained on bail. The prosecution appealed the sentence, which it termed inadequate. In June a hearing of Rahim's appeal was postponed until September after his lawyers claimed that Rahim was ill. In September the court again rescheduled the hearing to November after the defense informed the judge that Rahim had been admitted to a hospital. The appeal was heard in November; Rahim's fine was waived, but the 2-month jail sentence was upheld. Rahim's lawyer's appealed the sentence to the Federal Court. Rahim will lose his pension if the sentence is not overturned.
In 1999 Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad formed the Royal Commission of Inquiry after a long police internal investigation established that police had been responsible for the beating of Anwar, but failed to identify a culprit. The Commission found no members of the police besides Rahim culpable or complicit in the beating of Anwar or in the subsequent cover-up. In April 1999, the Malaysian Bar Council expressed concern that the Royal Commission had recommended that no action be taken against senior police officers who failed to report or arrest Rahim after the beating. Anwar's supporters continued to call on the Prime Minister, who oversaw the police as the Home Minister at the time of Anwar's arrest, to take responsibility for Anwar's beating. The Prime Minister had not responded by year's end.
During the year, there was no response from the Government to charges that psychological pressures and threats of physical coercion had been used in previous years to obtain confessions in the politically sensitive trials of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. In July the case against fashion designer Mior Abdul Razak bin Yahya for fabricating evidence, was dismissed as "not amounting to an acquittal," after being postponed four times. Mior had sworn in an affidavit that police had threatened and abused him after he was detained in September 1998, causing him to confess falsely to having had sexual relations with the former Deputy Prime Minister. In February Anwar's codefendant, Sukma Darmawan, testified that he had confessed falsely to a homosexual relationship with Anwar under police pressure in exchange for a promise that the would be free for such testimony. One other alleged homosexual partner of Anwar's gave a consistent description of the psychological and physical abuse used by police to force similar confessions from him.
No government response was reported to the March 1999 police report filed by opposition activist Abdul Malek bin Hussin in which he accused police of torturing him in 1998 while he was under detention without charge under the Internal Security Act (see Section 1.d.). Malek alleged that police among other abuses, had beaten him unconscious and forced him to drink their urine.
During the year, riot police several times forcibly dispersed peaceful demonstrators in Kuala Lumpur, using truncheons, water cannons, and tear gas (see Section 2.b.). In April the Legal Aid Centre, representing 48 persons arrested during street protests on April 15 to mark the first anniversary of Anwar Ibrahim's sentencing on corruption charges, called on the Government to probe allegations of police brutality during the protests. The Human Rights Commission announced in April that it would look into the allegations. Opposition activist Tian Chua claimed that police beat him in August after they detained him during a demonstration outside the courthouse where Anwar Ibrahim was being convicted and sentenced on sodomy charges. Tian reportedly suffered back injuries during the beating. He brought his case before the commission and announced that he intended to sue the Government.
Logging companies reportedly used police force and intimidation to appropriate land from indigenous Iban and Penan communities in Sarawak (see Section 5).
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. Some state Islamic laws, which bind only Muslims (see Section 1.e.), also prescribe caning. The caning, which is carried out with a 1/2-inch-thick wooden cane, commonly causes welts, and it sometimes causes scarring. Male criminals age 50 and above and women are exempted from caning. According to the provisions of the Child Act passed in December, male children may be given up to 10 strokes of a "light cane" (see Section 5).
Prison conditions are poor. The authorities in 1999 announced that changes would be made concerning prison conditions, in the wake of a 1999 report by the IPU on the treatment in prison of then political prisoner Lim Guan Eng. The report found that the conditions of Lim's imprisonment did not comply with the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules (Treatment of Prisoners) and the U.N. Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under any Form of Detention or Imprisonment. The report cited portions of the Minimum Rules that concern light, ventilation, and proper bedding, and Principle 6 of the Body of Principles, which prohibits torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. However, the delegation that drafted this report did not visit Lim in prison, and therefore was unable to make direct observations. The Government stated that Lim was detained under the same conditions as other prisoners and in accordance with the colonial-era 1952 Prison Rules and the 1995 Prisons Act, which, the Government contended, met the standards of the U.N. Minimum Rules.
Deputy Home Minister Ong Ka Ting told Parliament in 1999 that the Government had completed a review of prison rules and made amendments that would improve the management of prisoners. Ong said that the amendments would be promulgated after their approval by the Attorney General. Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Badawai announced in April that the Government had spent over $250,000 (1 million ringgit) during the year to provide every prisoner with a mattress, although this had not been confirmed by independent monitors by year's end. In August prison officials announced that a number of current prison rules would be reviewed. Officials stated that these changes would include allowing female prisoners to keep children with them until age 4 instead of the current restriction to age 3 and expanding visiting privileges.
Prison overcrowding is a serious problem. In 1999 the Director General of Prisons said that the country's 35 prisons held 27,400 prisoners; total designed capacity is 20,000. In March the Deputy Home Minister announced that eight more prisons, two juvenile reform schools, and a moral rehabilitation center would be built by 2005. "Security" prisoners (see Section 1.d.) were detained in a separate detention center.
Credible reports by former prisoners indicated that guards at some prisons regularly beat prisoners convicted of criminal offenses.
NGO's and former detainees have made credible allegations of inadequate food, poor medical care and sanitation, and abuse by guards in government camps for illegal immigrants. Conditions are considered to have improved with increased food and water rations, and vitamin B shots for detainees suffering from beri-beri. A Human Rights Watch report issued in August on the status of Burmese Rohingya illegal immigrants in the country documented allegations of deaths in the camps due to beatings and inhuman conditions during the 1990's (see Sections 1.a. and 2.d.). There were no reports of similar deaths during the year. In July 1999, after 3 days without adequate supplies of water, 192 illegal aliens escaped from the Lenggeng detention center. Testimony during the ongoing trial of nongovernmental organization (NGO) activist Irene Fernandez (see Section 2.a.) described inhuman conditions at illegal alien detention camps from 1993 to 1995. Former detainees from this period testified during the trial that they had been kicked, beaten with sticks and rubber hoses by camp policemen, refused medical treatment for their injuries, and subjected to severe punishments, including sexual abuse. Some physical abuse still occurs in the camps.
The law provides that young boys and girls in remand (judicially approved detention) may be placed in prison. The local press reported in September that children as young as 10 years old were held in prisons for offenses such as petty theft or involvement in school fights. Although kept in a separate cell block, they reportedly mingled with adult prisoners during communal activities. The Prisons Department acknowledged that more than 200 juveniles between 14 and 21 years of age were being held in prisons, in particular at Sungai Buloh. A prison official claimed that the juvenile prisoners, 82 percent of whom were waiting for their cases to be heard, are kept separately from adult prisoners at all times. In September the Government identified 2,061 juveniles held in 26 prisons throughout the country. The Minister in the Prime Minister's Office responsible for legal affairs said that he would review the rules governing custody of juveniles, claiming that the law did not provide for such imprisonment of minors. According to press reports in November, officials from the National Unity and Social Development Ministry expressed surprise that juvenile offenders still were being sent to prison, despite plans to relocate them to separate facilities.
The Government has an agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that permits visits to certain categories of prisoners. The Government has not blocked or denied such visits. However, the ICRC did not visit prisons during the year. In August an ICRC representative arrived to open a regional facility in the country, but he had not received accreditation from the Government. Other NGO's and the media generally are not permitted to monitor prison conditions. Access to illegal alien detention camps is restricted.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Police continued to use several statutes to arrest and detain many persons without charge or trial. Suspects in some crimes (called "seizable offenses") may be arrested without warrants; suspects in other crimes ("nonseizable offenses") may be arrested only based on a warrant from a magistrate. Crimes characterized as bailable offenses permit suspects to present bail at the police station according to a schedule. Bail is not available for nonbailable offenses and sometimes also is denied in other circumstances, for example, 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 up to 2 weeks. After this extension, the police, if they wish to hold the suspect, must charge him and seek an order of detention from a magistrate. In some cases, police have released suspects under remand and quickly rearrested them on new but similar charges. However, in general police practice is in accord with legal provisions concerning detention.
Police may deny prisoners under remand access to legal counsel and routinely they do so. During this period of remand, police also may question suspects without giving them access to counsel. Police justify this practice as necessary to prevent interference in ongoing investigations. Judicial decisions have upheld this practice. Defendants' advocates claimed that the lack of access to counsel seriously weakened defendants' legal rights.
Crowded, understaffed courts and the legal safeguards and appeals available to the accused often result in lengthy pretrial detention, sometimes lasting several years. In 1998 the Prison's Director General stated that roughly half of the prison population consisted of prisoners who had not yet been sentenced. Most such prisoners either have been convicted and are awaiting sentence or are in the midst of their trials. In April a government minister acknowledged that a prisoner had been held for more than 8 years pending trial.
Three laws permit the Government to detain suspects without judicial review or the filing of formal charges: the 1960 Internal Security Act (ISA); the 1969 Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance, and the 1985 Dangerous Drugs Act (Special Preventive Measures). Enacted more than 40 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 Home Minister 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 remainder of their detention periods. These conditions limited 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. According to a prominent local human rights NGO, as of November 30, there had been 76 detentions under the ISA during the year. In addition, according to the NGO's statistics through June, 836 persons had been detained under the Dangerous Drug Act and, as of August 31, 418 persons were being detained under the Emergency Ordinance.
The ISA often is used against what the Government considers nonpolitical crimes, including those against ostensibly "deviant" Muslim groups. The Government states that deviant groups pose a danger to national security because of their radical beliefs. The ISA, and the threat of invoking the ISA, also are used to intimidate and restrict political dissent. For example, in 1998 the police detained Anwar Ibrahim and 27 of his followers under the ISA after a series of largely peaceful antigovernment demonstrations. The Government claimed that the demonstrations threatened national security (see Sections 1.e. and 2.b.). The 29 members of the Al-Ma'unah sect arrested in June initially were detained under the ISA.
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 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 Bar Council has in the past asserted that detentions under the ISA should be subject to judicial review on both procedural and substantive grounds, the courts have not concurred with this interpretation, and they review ISA detentions only on technical grounds. Detainees freed on technical grounds nearly always are detained again immediately.
In May 1999, the Government announced new procedures for ISA detention. According to press reports, the new amendments stipulated that senior police officials must concur with ISA detentions. The then-Deputy Minister in the then Prime Minister's Department Datuk Ibrahim Ali claimed that the amended procedures would help prevent misuse of the ISA. The details were not reported.
In early August, the Government charged 29 members of the Al-Ma'unah sect, who were arrested for the early June raids on two army depots, after previous remandings had expired. The group was charged under Section 121 of the Penal Code with "waging or attempting to wage or abetting the waging of war" against the King. Also in August, the Government detained under the ISA at least 33 additional Al-Ma'unah members solely for their membership in the group. In December six members of the first group were convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The remaining members (of both groups) remained in custody at year's end. In March police in Sarawak detained two persons under the ISA for allegedly dealing illegally in firearms (see Sections 1.e. and 2.c.).
Opposition leaders and human rights organizations continued to call on the Government to repeal the ISA and other legislation that deprived persons of the right to defend themselves in court. For example, in August 70 opposition parties and nongovernmental groups signed a memorandum calling for the repeal of the ISA. However, during the year, a number of ruling coalition politicians and government officials stated that the ISA still was necessary and would not be repealed. In February the Deputy Home Minister said in Parliament that the ISA is useful in maintaining the peace, but it would not be misused. In July the Prime Minister said "the ISA is a legitimate law of the country, and although we do not like using it, we have the right to use it against persons whose actions can jeopardize the country's security."
Under the 1969 Emergency Ordinance, which was instituted after intercommunal riots in that year, the Home Minister may 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. In September press reports quoted a police official as saying that 328 persons were detained under the ordinance during the year.
Provisions of the 1985 Dangerous Drugs Act (Special Preventive Measures) give the Government specific power to detain suspected drug traffickers without trial. Such suspects may be held for up to 39 days before the Home 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 Minister. However, the review process contained none of the procedural rights that a defendant would have in a court proceeding. The police frequently detained suspected narcotics traffickers under the Special Preventive Measures after the traffickers are acquitted of formal charges – often as they leave the courtroom. Between January and September, 1,259 persons were detained under this measure. The Government detained over 1,300 persons under this law in 1999.
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 were able to produce legal documents normally are released immediately; those who were unable to prove their legal status often were held for extended periods before deportation. Illegal aliens were kept in detention centers that are separate from prisons (see Section 1.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 Ministry to place criminal suspects under restricted residence in a remote district away from their homes 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 (during British sovereignty) under very different circumstances, and they have called for its repeal. The Government has continued to justify the act as a necessary tool and has used it in the recent past, primarily to combat vice and gambling offenses. In July 1999, the Terengganu state chief of police warned publicly that operators of illegal gambling machines would be banished under the act if they did not cease their activities. In August 1999, Director General of the Anticorruption Agency (ACA) Datuk Ahmad Zaki Husin proposed using the act to banish officials suspected of corruption. After the Bar Council expressed concerns over the proposal, Zaki clarified that the Restricted Residence Act might be used only for "syndicated graft." Also in August 1999, the Deputy Prime Minister warned "get-rich-quick" scheme operators that they might face banishment under the act. The Government has not disclosed how many persons were subject to the Restricted Residence Act and no accurate estimate was available. In April the Deputy Home Minister said in Parliament that during 1999 there were 93 persons held in prison waiting to be placed under restricted residence, and 17 of these persons were released from prison into restricted residence. In September the Selangor state government stated that it might use the Restricted Residence Act to banish those responsible for the increase in illegal video and gaming outlets in Selnagor.
In 1998 the Attorney General stated that the Government had expedited hearings on the cases of 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 such "forgotten prisoners" committed their crimes as minors or while of unsound mind. The Government has not released the findings of the hearings held on these cases, or indicated whether any of the 44 prisoners have been released.
Section 396 of the Criminal Procedure Code allows the detention of a person whose testimony as a material witness is necessary in a criminal case, if that person is likely to abscond.
The Government does not use forced exile.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, since 1988 government action, constitutional amendments, legislation restricting judicial review, and other factors steadily have eroded 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 raised questions of arbitrary verdicts, selective prosecution, and preferential treatment of some litigants and lawyers. Members of the bar, NGO's, and other observers (including those who attended a 1999 Commonwealth Law Conference held in the country) continued to express serious concern about the deterioration of the independence and overall fairness of the judiciary. In December a new Chief Justice and Attorney General were sworn into office. Most observers were optimistic that these appointments will help restore the health and credibility of the judiciary. Immediately after taking his position, the new Chief Justice made public remarks regarding the importance of restoring public trust in the judiciary.
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. Juvenile courts try offenders under age 18. The Special Court tries cases against the King and sultans. The Court of Appeal has appellate jurisdiction over high court and sessions court decisions. The Federal Court, the country's highest court, hears appeals of court of appeal decisions.
Islamic religious laws administered by state authorities through Islamic courts bind ethnic Malays and other Muslims in some 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 necessary agreement of all the states and the proposal has not been implemented, though it is still under discussion.
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.
The military has a separate system of courts.
The secular legal system is based on English common law. Trials are public, although judges may order restrictions on press coverage. For example, in the corruption trial of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar, the judge often restricted press coverage of defense testimony and remarks that might embarrass senior government leaders. However, the judge generally did not restrict press coverage of testimony and remarks that might embarrass Anwar.
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. In general, limited pretrial discovery in criminal cases hobble defendants' ability to defend themselves.
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.
A 1997 amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code that may erode defendants' presumption of innocence continued to concern lawyers. Before the 1997 amendment, the prosecution was required to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt or the defendant would receive a summary dismissal without having to present the defense case. Now, the prosecution only needs to prove a legally sufficient uless disproved case, and the defense must be called. In August 1999, a man was convicted of murder after electing to enter a no defense. The judge ruled that the prosecution had proven a legally sufficient case and, when the man chose to offer no defense, the judge convicted him and sentenced him to death.
In 1998 Parliament passed amendments to the 1964 Courts of Judicature Act 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 Bar Association said in 1998 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 1975 Essential (Security Cases) Regulations. These regulations governing trial procedure normally apply only in firearm 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. However, the Essential Regulations were invoked in September at the beginning of the trial of the 29 members of the Al-Ma'unah sect accused of carrying out arms thefts at 2 army posts in July. Defense lawyers argued that the use of the Essential Regulations was unconstitutional, since no certificate of emergency declaring a national emergency had been issued. The judge ruled that the Attorney General has the discretion to opt to use the Essential Regulations, if he sees fit to do so (see Sections 1.d. and 2.c.).
Even when the Essential Regulations are not invoked, defendants and defense lawyers lack legal protections against interference. For example, during a trial police may call and interrogate witnesses who have given testimony not helpful to the prosecution. Human rights advocates accused police of using this tactic to intimidate witnesses. One instance of this practice led the Bar Council in July 1999 to issue a statement of concern. Police also have used raids and document seizures to harass defendants. Selective prosecution that is, prosecution based on political rather than legal considerations, is a serious problem in the legal system. According to the law, the decision to prosecute a case rests solely with the Attorney General. In August 1999, the former Chief Justice publicly reminded magistrates and judges not to question the Attorney General's sole discretion to prosecute. Opposition leaders and some NGO's made credible accusations of political interference in the judicial process. In April 1999 the Prime Minister publicly denied that he interfered in the decisions of the Attorney General. In February the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department responsible for legal affairs stated in Parliament that the Attorney General does not practice selective prosecution.
In practice the Attorney General uses his power to prosecute selectively. In May 1999, the Attorney General warned that those accusing the Government of selective prosecution could be charged with sedition or criminal defamation. The Bar Council criticized the Attorney General's statement and stated that it showed "a lack of respect or understanding of the concept of democracy and the rule of law." No one was charged with sedition or criminal defamation on such grounds during the year.
Contempt of court charges also have restricted the ability of defendants and their attorneys to defend themselves. Attorney Zainur Zakaria, after raising a legal issue on behalf of his client Anwar Ibrahim, was charged with contempt in 1998. Zainur lost his appeal in September but was granted a stay of execution of the 3-month sentence pending his appeal to the Federal Court, the country's highest court. The Bar Council expressed concern over Zainur's case and other contempt of court cases several times in recent years and in March 1999, it prepared a draft Contempt of Courts Act to provide explicitly what would constitute contempt. The Chief Justice said in April 1999 that there was no need for a Contempt of Courts Act because judges do not abuse their power. In August 1999, former Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Ibrahim Ali said that the Government would study the Bar Council's draft; however, the Government had not passed or considered such a bill by year's end. In September senior government officials participated in a Bar Council seminar on contempt of court provisions.
Following a number of high-profile corruption cases, the Government amended the Anticorruption Act in 1997. The law gives the Attorney General powers that impinge on the presumption of innocence and requires accused persons to prove that they acquired their monetary and other assets legally.
Islamic courts do not give equal weight to the testimony of women. Many NGO's have complained that women do not receive fair treatment from Islamic courts, especially in matters of divorce.
In August, a judge ruled that U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Datuk Param Cumaraswamy, because of his status as a U.N. Special Rapporteur, was immune from one of four libel suits pending against him in Malaysia. The judge explicitly stated that his ruling did not affect any of the other suits pending against Param. The suits stem from a longstanding and complex series of events. In 1997 Param and former Malaysian Bar Council secretary general Tommy Thomas were sued by several large companies, prominent businessmen, and a prominent lawyer for libel for an article, in an international legal journal. The article alleged that certain plaintiffs and their lawyers enjoyed improper preferential treatment in the courts. In judgments that widely were thought to be politically motivated and improperly influenced by favoritism, the courts had rejected Param's claim of immunity. In April 1999, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) had ruled that because of his status as a U.N. Special Rapporteur, Param was immune from the suits. The following month the Prime Minister said that the Government would abide by the ICJ's decision; however, in October 1999, a court defied the ICJ and ruled that Param would have to defend himself. Similar decisions were handed down in the other three suits. The U.N. expressed its regret over the court's decisions, and in December 1999, asked the Government to reimburse it for legal expenses. Param appealed the rulings, leading to the August decision. The other 3 libel suits against Param were still pending at year's end.
The libel case against Tommy Thomas was settled in October 1998 after he issued a written apology through his lawyers. However, he then issued a statement that the settlement was initiated by his insurance company over his objections. Subsequently Thomas issued a second statement retracting his earlier one. However, the judge cited him for contempt of court. He was convicted in 1998 and sentenced to 6 months in prison. The appeal of his conviction was still pending at year's end.
In June the High Court granted an order preventing the Malaysian Bar Council from holding an extraordinary meeting to discuss a motion calling for an investigation into alleged improper conduct by the Chief Justice. In 1994 the Chief Justice was accused of accepting vacation travel, from a lawyer who had matters pending before the court. The High Court stated that the allegations against the Chief Justice had not been verified.
The cases against former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and some of his associates, and against Irene Fernandez (see Section 2.a.), have raised questions about judicial independence and impartiality. Nonetheless, the Courts did not rule exclusively in favor of the Government. In August a court convicted and fined a Member of Parliament (M.P.) from the ruling coalition government more than $2,600 (10,000 ringgit) on a contempt charge. The M.P. filed an appeal; if the conviction stands, he would lose his seat.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is a political prisoner. In September 1998, after a political conflict, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad removed Anwar as Deputy Prime Minister. Later the same month, after a large and mostly peaceful demonstration in which he called for Mahathir's resignation, Anwar was detained for alleged corruption and sodomy. The Government was motivated primarily by its desire to remove Anwar from political prominence following the significant manifestation of popular support for the reform movement that Anwar began after his removal. While in detention, Anwar was beaten by the former Inspector General of Police Rahim Noor (see Section 1.c.).
For several days, Anwar was denied medical treatment for the injuries that he received at the hands of Rahim. Presumably to avoid bringing a visibly injured Anwar to court, police changed Anwar's status to "detention without charge" under the Internal Security Act. Anwar's status subsequently was changed again to "criminal detention." Anwar later was tried and convicted on four counts of corruption. He was sentenced to 6 years in prison for corruption in April 1999. In April Anwar's appeal of the conviction and sentence was denied by the Court of Appeals. He has appealed to the Federal Court, the country's highest court. At year's end, Anwar's appeal of this conviction still was pending. At the request of his lawyers in November, the appeal was postponed because Anwar was in the hospital being treated for a slipped disk in his back. No date has yet been set to hear the appeal.
During Anwar's corruption trial, the judge made several questionable rulings that greatly limited Anwar's ability to defend himself against what some individuals believe were politically motivated charges. For example, the judge sentenced one of Anwar's attorneys to 3 months' imprisonment for contempt after the attorney raised in court charges of prosecutorial misconduct. The judge greatly restricted the scope of Anwar's defense (on occasions during the trial, the judge explicitly said that he did not care if there was a conspiracy to bring down Anwar) and tolerated improper activities by the police and prosecutors. The judge allowed prosecutors to amend the charges in the middle of the trial, which is permitted under the law but in this case clearly was unfair to Anwar. Anwar was denied the ability to rebut evidence of sexual misconduct presented by prosecution witnesses when the judge, at the end of the prosecution's case, allowed prosecutors to amend the charges, and then expunged the record of all evidence of sexual misconduct. Since his arrest, Anwar has been denied bail on questionable legal grounds.
On August 8, Anwar was convicted on a separate charge of sodomy and sentenced to 9 years in prison, to be served consecutively with the 6-year sentence that Anwar received for corruption. Once he completes his 15 years in prison, he would be disqualified from holding any public office for 5 years. His adopted brother, Sukma Damarawan, a codefendent in the case, was sentenced to 6 years in prison and four strokes of the cane, but he remains free on bail. Lawyers for both immediately filed appeals. At the beginning of the sodomy trial, prosecutors changed the dates of the alleged acts of sodomy, allegedly because the defense had discovered that the apartment building where the sodomy allegedly took place had not been completed by the original dates. Despite testimony detailing how police had coerced a confession from an alleged homosexual partner, on July 26 1999, the judge ruled that the prosecution had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that this confession had been voluntary. A few days later, another witness admitted that police had coached part of his testimony. On August 18, 1999, the lead police investigator materially contradicted his testimony (in order to make it consistent with the amended dates of the alleged offense); on the next day, the judge ruled that the policeman had not lied. In April the judge ruled that the Prime Minister, who was called by the defense in an attempt to prove a political conspiracy against Anwar, would not be required to testify. Defense attorneys maintained that they were not permitted by the judge to call a number of desired witnesses. The defense claimed that the judge exerted such pressure during the summer to bring the trial to an early conclusion.
Anwar's conviction and sentence were criticized strongly by opposition parties, human rights groups, and a number of foreign governments and international human rights organizations. For example, the Malaysian Bar Council criticized the trial, citing irregularities in the evidence, and characterized the sentence as "manifestly excessive and harsh." Anwar remained in prison at year's end, but he was transferred to a hospital in December to receive treatment for a slipped disk in his back. He is permitted to receive visits from only his family and lawyers. According to the law, Anwar is a "common criminal" rather than a political prisoner, and therefore does not have the right to receive visits from international human rights organizations.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law provides for these rights; however, authorities infringed on citizens' privacy rights in some cases. Provisions in the security legislation (see Section 1.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 use this legal authority to search homes and offices, seize books and papers, monitor conversations, and take persons into custody without a warrant.
The law permits the Home Ministry to place criminal suspects under restricted residence in a remote district away from their homes for a 2-year period (see Section 1.d.).
The Government bans membership in unregistered political parties and in unregistered 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.).
Muslim couples must take premarital courses. In previous years, women's activists complained that the courses, as implemented, perpetuated gender discrimination by misinforming women of their rights in marriage (see Section 5). However, there were no reports during the year of such misinformation regarding marriage rights.
Two state governments sought to restrict Muslim women's dress during the year (see Section 5).
Singaporean newspapers and magazines may not circulate in the country (see Section 2.a.), despite being easily available on the Internet.
2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, some important legal limitations exist, and the Government restricts freedom of expression and intimidates most of 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 racial and religious matters. In practice the Sedition Act, the Official Secrets Act, criminal defamation laws, and some other laws have been used to restrict or intimidate dissenting political speech.
In February 1999, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression issued a report stating that freedom of opinion was curtailed systematically in Malaysia. The Special Rapporteur stated that the Internal Security Act, the Sedition Act, and the Printing Presses and Publications Act were used to suppress or repress expression and curb peaceful assembly. He further stated that defamation laws "appear to be having a very chilling effect." The Government stated that the Special Rapporteur's report was "baseless and distorted."
The Prime Minister and other senior officials continued to ascribe seditious or treasonous motives to critics of government policies. Although many persons still criticized the Government publicly, the Government's statements made many persons more cautious about exercising their rights of free speech. For example, in November the Home Affairs Ministry issued several warnings to a Chinese-language daily newspaper, the China Press, about reporting on controversial issues, specifically the Vision School and the Education Fund.
In August 1999, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi warned that political parties that raised sensitive issues and caused an "undesirable situation" would be charged under the Sedition Act. However, government and ruling party officials sometimes made statements on sensitive racial and religious issues with no repercussions. For example, on the same day that the Deputy Prime Minister threatened to invoke the Sedition Act, he stated that voting for the opposition would be "disastrous" for ethnic Malays.
Two prominent figures were charged under sedition statutes during the year. In January the Government charged attorney and opposition politician Karpal Singh with sedition for statements he made in court during his legal defense of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, first time that a lawyer was charged with sedition for statements made in court. Karpal's case came to trial in July, but it was postponed until May 2001. Also in January, opposition politician Marina Yusoff was charged with sedition for comments that she made about racial violence in 1969 while campaigning for Parliament in 1999. Her case was postponed several times; it was being heard at year's end. Both Karpal and Marina were charged under Section 4(1)(b) of the Sedition Act of 1948, which carries a maximum fine of just over $1,300 (5,000 ringgit), or 3 years' imprisonment, or both.
Again in January, the editor and printer of Harakah, the newspaper of the opposition Islamic party, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), were charged with sedition in connection with an August 1999 Harakah article that quoted an opposition politician's comments on the confession of Sukma Darawaman, Anwar Ibrahim's codefendant in Anwar's sodomy trial. The printer pleaded guilty in May and was fined slightly over $1,000 (4,000 ringgit). The editor's case is scheduled to be heard in 2001, although no formal date has been set.
In September 1999 an offical of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the dominant component of the ruling National Front coalition, lodged a police report charging the chief minister of the opposition-controlled state of Kelantan with sedition. The chief minister allegedly had said that the state's populace no longer held the royal family in high regard. Police announced that they had questioned 10 members of the opposition Islamic party about this case. There were no reports of further developments by year's end.
In March the Melaka state government announced that it had terminated the contracts of an undetermined number of panel doctors, architects, and lawyers, and blacklisted contractors who allegedly were aligned with opposition parties. The state government also closed accounts in banks where the staff were accused of criticizing the Government. In July the Penang state government also blacklisted contractors for their alleged involvement in antigovernment activities, such as supporting or funding opposition parties. Opposition parties and NGO's criticized these actions as discriminatory, claiming that such steps were inconsistent with the demands of a democratic society.
In March 1999, the Prime Minister said that slanderous statements had become a "security problem" and claimed that some statements advocated violence and assassination. Police later claimed that they were monitoring all slanderous statements, including news reports that amounted to incitement. It was unclear from the Prime Minister's and police officials' statements whether security concerns were confined to advocating violence or whether these concerns also encompassed legitimate criticism of the Government.
UMNO formed a legal panel in March 1999 to identify slanderous and libelous statements and to take legal action against them. The panel subsequently sued several government critics for public statements and statements reported in the press. Fromer Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Ibrahim Ali, the chairman of the panel, warned that those who made allegations against the Government or the ruling party also might face prosecution for criminal defamation. In a separate statement in May 1999, Datuk Ibrahim Ali said that the ruling party had identified 40 to 50 individuals from the opposition and academia who often mad defamatory statements. He reportedly said that UMNO wanted to ensure that the critics did not get away "scot free." Government opponents accused the Government of using the panel to stifle legitimate dissent. In June 1999, UMNO secretary general Tan Sri Khalil Yaakob said that the panel had countered opposition slander successfully.
During 2000, many government officials, opposition figures, and private citizens filed multimillion-dollar lawsuits for libel and slander. In May 1999, the Bar Council stated that the proliferation of multimillion-dollar libel and slander lawsuits "would end up stifling the freedom of speech." In July the Federal Court upheld a judgment of over $250,000 (1 million ringgit) against a free-lance journalist who had been sued for libel by a wealthy businessman in 1994. In September the Court of Appeals dismissed an appeal by a Asian Edition Wall Street Journal correspondent against the rejection of his application to amend his statement of defense in a more than $10 million (40 million ringgit) libel suit against him. A different panel of judges also struck down (with costs) the correspondent's application for a stay of the suits against him that were pending in a lower court. Also in September, the New Straits Times made a public apology to a prominent opposition party leader for two caricatures published in the newspaper in 1999. The Minister in the Prime Minister's Department responsible for legal affairs told reporters in September that the Government would review the law of defamation in response to public concern over libel awards which, he noted, frequently exceeded damages handed down in personal injury cases.
The Official Secrets Act (OSA) also restricts freedom of expression. In the past, The Bar Council and other NGO's have called for a review of certain provisions of the OSA that grant considerable discretion to the authorities. Opposition leaders historically have accused the Government of using the OSA to cover up corruption. In January Ezam Nor, former Anwar aide and youth chief of the opposition group National Justice Party, was charged under the OSA with disclosing to reporters secret AntiCorruption Agency (ACA) reports. Ezam stated publicly in August 1999 that Anwar had stored abroad documents that corroborated charges of corruption against senior government leaders. Ezam claimed that the reports showed that the ACA was not pursuing corruption cases against senior government officials. Ezam's case went to trial in August, but it was postponed until February 2001. In March a government official stated in Parliament that only six persons have been arrested under the OSA since its inception in 1972, and he claimed that this statistic proved that the Government does not use the OSA to silence critics.
The 1984 Printing Presses and Publications Act limits press freedom. Under the act, 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, expanded the Government's power to ban or restrict publications, and prohibited 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 resulted in extensive self-censorship. In April the Deputy Home Minister stated in Parliament that from 1996 through March, action had been taken under the Act against 164 publishers. In May the Deputy Prime Minister stated in Parliament that the act has "served its purpose" of preserving harmony and promoting coexistence in a multiracial country. In August the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department responsible for legal affairs said that the act would not be repealed, even if a national press council were established to regulate the media.
The English and Malay mainstream press 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 are much freer in reporting and commenting on sensitive political and social issues, but they are not immune to government pressure. However, self-censorship and biased reporting in the print media was not uniform and the English-, Malay-, and Chinese-language press all, at times, provided balanced reporting on sensitive issues.
The Government often conveyed its displeasure with press reporting directly to a newspaper's board of directors or chief editors. In addition leading political figures in the ruling coalition, or companies controlled by them, own most major newspapers, thus limiting the range of views. At times the susceptibility of the press to government pressure has a direct and public impact on operations. For example, in January the group editor in chief of a local press conglomerate was removed after its flagship newspaper, the New Straits Times, carried several articles that reportedly angered the UMNO Supreme Council. However, the individual was appointed in September as chairman of Bernama, the national news agency.
By World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 950 journalists had signed a petition, initiated a year earlier, calling for the repeal of the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the formation of an independent media council to regulate the press. The petition stated that government controls on the press had resulted in self-censorship and diminished the credibility of the mainstream press. The Bar Council issued a statement in 1999 supporting the journalists' petition. Although in response the Deputy Prime Minister reaffirmed his intention to look into the idea of a media council, no action had been taken by year's end.
The Center for Independent Journalism, which was founded in May, issued a statement after a seminar in September on press freedom, that cited self-censorship as the biggest obstacle to press freedom in the country. It identified the Printing Presses and Publications Act and fear of lawsuits as the primary causes of self-censorship.
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 of detainees at illegal alien detention centers. Fernandez's supporters accuse the Government of purposely prolonging the trial, the longest in the country's history, to harass Fernandez. As of year's end, the trial continued.
The Government also sometimes directly restricts the dissemination of information that it deems embarrassing or prejudicial to national interests. The Government continued its policy of not allowing public disclosure of air pollution index-readings. In July the Minister for Science, Technology, and Environment Datuk Seri Law Hieng Ding reiterated that the Government would not release air pollution index-readings due to fear that they would affect the tourism industry negatively. In February 1999, the Government forbade all state health departments from commenting on the outbreak of a deadly virus. The Government later restricted reporters' access to sites of the outbreak. However, the issue was reported widely.
Publications of opposition parties, social action groups, unions, and other private groups actively covered opposition parties and frequently printed views critical of government policies. However, the Government retained significant influence over these publications by requiring annual renewal of publishing permits and limiting circulation only to members of the relevant organization. Several times in 1999, senior government leaders publicly warned the publishers of Harakah, the Islamic opposition party's newspaper not to print "slanderous" remarks and to limit distribution to party members. Harakah also was the target of several ruling party-sponsored libel suits. In December 1999, the Home Ministry issued a letter to Harakah's publisher asking him to explain why Harakah should not be banned for violating the terms of the publishing permit. Acting on a Home Ministry directive, police officers raided newsstands that distributed Harakah to the public and confiscated many copies. Harakah stated that he would abide by the Home Ministry directive and the newspaper generally no longer is sold openly. The circulation of Harakah rivals that of mainstream newspapers. Harakah was the only major Malay and English language media forum for opposition views. In March, the Government stipulated that Harakah published only twice a month instead of twice a week. The Government failed to renew publication permits for several political weeklies, such as Ekslusif and Detik, and a teen magazine, Al-Wasilah. The Government stated that the permits of Detik and Ekslusif were not renewed because of their "imbalanced reporting."
For most of the year, there were two exclusively on-line newspapers, although one of these was forced to shut down in December due to financial difficulties. Most major newspapers have an on-line edition. For example, Detik now publishes an on-line Internet edition. Exclusively on-line newspapers do not require publication permits; however, the Government denies their reporters press accreditation to cover government functions and ministers' press conferences, and refuses their admission into government buildings. During the year, readership of on-line newspapers increased markedly.
Printers, who also must have their permits renewed annually, were often reluctant to print publications were critical of the Government.
Both legal magazines (those with publishing permits) and illegal, that is lacking publishing permits, publications frequently printed criticism of the Government. In May 1999, police seized over a thousand copies of illegal antigovernment magazines at a printing company and charged the company owner with violating the Printing Presses and Publications Act.
Isolated instances of violence against journalists occurred during the year. A news photographer reportedly was assaulted during an August demonstration staged by the UMNO youth wing against an ethnic Chinese group accused of questioning special Malay rights and privileges.
The foreign press continued to be a target of government criticism for allegedly biased reporting. In February 1999, several government ministries announced plans to boycott three foreign publications that they claimed criticized the Government overzealously. In his August Independence Day speech, the Prime Minister stated the foreign media "have succeeded in discrediting us and encouraging and supporting all acts by any groups, including criminals, which could undermine our country."
The electronic media is restricted more tightly than the print media. Radio and television are almost uniformly laudatory of the Government. News on the opposition is restricted tightly and reported in a biased fashion. In July 1999, the Deputy Information Minister stated candidly that government television and radio channels would not broadcast the views of opposition parties. He said that opposition parties were welcome to use private news stations or apply for broadcasting licenses of their own. In fact the two private television stations have close ties to the ruling coalition and are unlikely to provide a forum for the opposition parties, and it is unlikely that the Government would grant the opposition a broadcasting license. In April the Deputy Information Minister stated that the opposition only would be allowed access to government media if the opposition "has anything specific or good to say." The Government has not approved a longstanding license application for a state radio station in the opposition-controlled state of Kelantan. Every other state has such a station.
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 restrictions. The Government maintains a "blacklist" of local and foreign performers, politicians, and religious leaders who may not appear on television or radio broadcasts.
The Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA), which came into force on April 1, 1999, requires certain Internet and other network service providers to obtain a license under the CMA. In December the Government stated that it did not intend to impose controls on Internet use, but it would punish the "misuse" of information technology under the CMA, which, while prohibiting censorship, provides for "legal action against those who post defamatory and false information on the Internet." The Government has not used licensing provisions under the CMA to interfere with Internet access or to restrict Internet content.
Police detained four persons under the ISA in 1998 for "cyber rumor-mongering." Police accused the four 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. One of the four was acquitted in April for lack of evidence. The other three cases still were pending at year's end. During the year, government officials made several contradictory comments about the desirability of censoring the Internet. In September the Deputy Home Affairs Minister announced that his ministry was drafting a new law that would allow legal action to be taken against those believed to be responsible for spreading "misleading information" and pornography via the Internet. However, in the same month, the Information Minister said that the Government had no plans to censor the Internet. The Minister in the Prime Minister's Department responsible for legal affairs stated in September that, while the Internet would not be censored, users remained subject to the law, and anyone who defamed another over the Internet or made seditious comments still could legal face action.
The Government generally restricts remarks or publications that might incite racial or religious disharmony; it also attempts to restrict the content of sermons at government-affiliated mosques. Some state governments ban certain Muslim clergymen from delivering sermons (see Section 2.c.).
In December 1999, Prime Minister Mahathir said that the Government should find ways to prevent the opposition from "spreading lies" at mosques. Also in December 1999, Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah instructed the Religious Affairs Department to conduct background checks on religious speakers.
Throughout the year, government officials and ruling coalition politicians complained that opposition Islamic party members were giving political sermons in mosques around the country. In January the Prime Minister's office announced that all state religious councils had been instructed to keep a closer watch on the use of mosques for political purposes. In March a government minister stated that Friday sermons at mosques were being monitored to prevent the spread of "slander and lies." Selangor state government officials announced that they were investigating mosque committee members with links to the opposition, and Johor state government officials said that they had identified several "political" religious leaders who had criticized the Government. Selangor officials threatened to expel opposition sympathizers from mosque committees, and in Johor state, officials threatened "stern action." In May 24 members of the opposition Islamic party were banned by the Selangor state government from giving speeches in all mosques, government buildings, and prayer places in the state.
In the past, the Government generally had respected academic freedom in the areas of teaching and publication. Academics are sometimes publicly critical of the Government. However, there is self-censorship among public university academics whose career advancement and funding depend on the Government. In October the Education Ministry submitted the results of its inquiry into several teachers in Malacca who allegedly promoted antigovernment feelings by assigning political topics in a debate competition. The Teaching Service Commission was to determine whether these teachers should be dismissed; the inquiry was ongoing at year's end. Private institution academics also practiced self-censorship due to fear that the Government may revoke licenses for their institutions. Legislation also imposed limitations on student associations and student and faculty political activity (see Section 2.b.). A university vice chancellor must approve campus demonstrations.
The Government remained intolerant of teachers and students who expressed dissenting views. Throughout the year, senior government officials stated that teachers who opposed the Government and students who took part in antigovernment activities would face disciplinary actions, including dismissal and expulsion. In September the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department responsible for legal affairs warned that teachers who "poisoned the minds of school children" with political views during class faced the possibility of being charged under the Sedition Act and the Penal Code, and that students should not be involved in partisan politics. He asked the police to file a report on three teachers. In August 1999, an Education Ministry official said that a disciplinary panel had received reports from several states concerning teachers who had "incited" their students against the Government. In September 1999, an Education Ministry official said that the Ministry had "acted against" several teachers involved in antigovernment activities.
The Government has long stated that students should be apolitical and used that assertion as a basis for denying opposition parties access to student forums. According to student leaders, students who sign antigovernment petitions sometimes are expelled or fined. In fact the Government enforces this policy selectively; however, it does not refrain from spreading government views on political issues among students and teachers. In September the head of an Islamic student group was summoned for questioning by University of Malaya authorities for organizing a demonstration against a Western singing group.
In February 1999, the University of Malaya declined to renew the contract of Professor Chandra Muzaffar. Chandra, a well-known supporter of political reform and long-time government critic, charged that the university had fired him for political reasons. The university stated that it had declined to renew Chandra's contract for economic and personnel reasons. In June 1999, the High Court agreed to hear Chandra's application to reverse the university's decision. His case went to court in March but judgment had not been announced at year's end.
In 1997 the Government prohibited academics from making any public statements or publishing any writings on the country's air pollution crisis. Academics and others openly protested this order. The gag order remained in effect.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly; however, the Government places significant restrictions on this right. 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. The decision to grant a permit theoretically rests with the district police chief; however, in practice senior police officials and political leaders influence the grant or denial of some permits. Police grant permits routinely to government and ruling coalition supporters; however, they use a more restrictive policy with government critics, although the police have granted permits for many opposition meetings. In March the Government renewed a ban on outdoor public rallies in the capital that involve more than five persons. Opposition leaders frequently alleged that police issue permits for public assemblies in an unfair manner that discriminates against the opposition. Various state and local police departments rebutted these allegations by providing statistics that indicated that most requests for permits are granted; however, in certain sensitive cases political considerations clearly led to the denial of permits. For example, in August police denied a permit to the National Justice Party to hold a rally at a large stadium in Kuala Lumpur. In response the National Justice Party organized and held a large public demonstration on November 5. The Government denied the permit for this demonstration as well, and police blocked roads leading to the private property on which it was to take place. As a result, participants demonstrated on the roadways nearby. The police used repressive, sometimes violent, means to block the demonstration and to arrest participants. There were reports that peaceful demonstrators were teargassed, struck with batons, and locked in police trucks for several hours in the afternoon sun. In December the National Human Rights Commission opened an inquiry into the police response to this demonstration and took testimony in public hearings. Opposition politicians noted that regulations that required that political meetings be held indoors if no permit is obtained make it difficult to hold large meetings, especially in rural areas. Police reaction to opposition rallies that ignored the requirement for a permit or were held after the Government denied a permit varied. Opposition politicians noted that ruling coalition parties frequently assembled without the requisite permits. For example, in August a youth group of the dominant Malay Party held a noisy assembly outside a Chinese assembly hall during a period of public tension over public comments that a Chinese association had made concerning special Malay rights (see Section 2.c.).
At the April, September, November, and other, smaller pro-Anwar opposition demonstrations in 1999, police arrested hundreds of demonstrators, including many peaceful demonstrators. Many of these demonstrators later were acquitted, a handful were convicted, sentences ranging from 1 to 3 months and a fine, and some cases still were pending at year's end. Among those arrested were many opposition party leaders. Police detained them under the Police Act for allegedly participating in an illegal assembly and under the Penal Code for allegedly causing a riot. All were released on bail, and they still were awaiting trial at year's end. In December seven members of the opposition were arrested and charged with rioting for stopping and directing to the local police headquarters a number of buses that they suspected were carrying unregistered voters to the polls during the November by-election in Lunas. All subsequently were released and were awaiting trial at year's end.
In April the police mounted an operation to prevent citizens from participating in a Kuala Lumpur demonstration called by the opposition to commemorate the 1-year anniversary of Anwar Ibrahim's 1999 conviction on corruption charges. Police set up roadblocks and monitored bus stations, train stations, and airports to turn back suspected opposition supporters. Despite these efforts, a small crowd of roughly 100 persons gathered on April 15 in Kuala Lumpur. The police dispersed the group as it moved between several locations, in some instances by using water cannons. Roughly half of the group was arrested; Amnesty International reported that many were assaulted while in police custody (see Section 1.c.). In the days before the April 15 demonstration, police arrested several opposition figures. One such person, Tian Chua, was arrested on the day after the demonstration, along with his lawyer (who was released shortly afterwards). All of those arrested were released on bail, and they awaited trial at year's end.
On August 8, a crowd of several hundred opposition supporters gathered outside the courthouse in downtown Kuala Lumpur at which the verdict in Anwar Ibrahim's sodomy trial was being announced. The Government declared that the gathering was illegal and warned the public not to attend, despite the Human Rights Commission's pleas to respect the right to peaceful assembly outside the courthouse. Three members of the commission observed the demonstration and police conduct. Several days later, the commission issued a statement declaring that in general police conduct had been professional and considerate of the demonstrators. Opposition leader Tian Chua and several others claimed that they were beaten at a police station after being detained by police outside the courthouse.
In a meeting with the Human Rights Commission to discuss the August 8 demonstration, a public assembly observer team that represented a coalition of seven NGO's recommended a series of reforms to improve police handling of peaceful assemblies. The observers presented photographs taken on the scene as evidence of overly aggressive behavior by the police. The commission stated that it would study the documents and pictures.
There were several smaller demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur during the year. For example, a demonstration was held in January when Anwar Ibrahim's sodomy trial resumed after a several month break and a second took place in March at the National Mosque to protest government restrictions on the opposition newspaper Harakah. In each case, the police arrested some of the demonstrators and quickly broke up the gatherings.
In February 1999, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion criticized the Government's use of various laws to curb peaceful assembly (see Section 2.a.).
In July 1999, five social activists were arrested for illegal assembly when they tried to prevent police from demolishing a squatter settlement. The case still was pending at year's end.
In April 4 of the over 50 Islamic opposition party members who were arrested in 1997 when they demonstrated in protest of an Israeli team's participation at an international cricket championship were ordered to testify in their own defense. In November each of the 4 was given a sentence of either 1 month in jail or a fine of $400 (15,000 ringgit). Three chose jail time and one chose to pay the fine. The three serving jail time were released in early December after serving abbreviated sentences. Charges against the others were dropped in 1999.
The Constitution provides for the right of association; however, the Government places significant restrictions on this right. Certain statutes limited this right. Under the 1966 Societies Act, 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 did not allow AI to set up a branch as an NGO. However, AI incorporated itself, and it was able to function much like an NGO. The Government prohibits the Communist Party and affiliated organizations (see Section 1.f.). The Government also has the power to revoke the registration of an existing society for violations of the act, a power that it has enforced selectively against political opposition groups. This threat of possible deregistration inhibits political activism.
To avoid the burdensome requirements of the Societies Act, many NGO's register as companies under the Companies Act or as businesses under the Registration of Businesses Act. Amendments to the Companies Act passed in 1998 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 the public interest. The Registrar also may cancel the registration of an existing company and disband it on the same grounds. Opposition parties and NGO activists claim 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. However, later police statements threateningly alluded to the status of certain NGO's under the Companies or Societies Acts. In 1999 the Deputy Home Minister notified Parliament that the Government had revoked the registration of 981 societies under the Societies Act since 1966. No human rights NGO has had its registration revoked in recent years.
In August the High Court heard an appeal from the Socialist Party of Malaysia, whose application to form a new political party had been rejected in February 1999 by the Registrar of Societies. The Registrar stated that information on the application form was incomplete. Supporters of the Socialist Party claimed that the denial was motivated politically and filed an appeal. The case still was pending at year's end.
The Bar Council continues to be the target of government criticism in some instances; however, in others the Government attempted to collaborate with the council. In March 1999, former Deputy Minister Datuk Ibrahm Ali said that the Bar Council should not question the appointment of judges. In May 1999, Ali said that the Bar Council should stop meddling in government affairs. In June 1999, government leaders threatened to pass legislation making the Attorney General the head of the Bar Council. However, the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Rais Yatim, spoke at a Bar Council seminar in September on contempt-of-court procedures. In the past, the Government has threatened to expand legally the membership of the Bar Council to include government lawyers and legal professors. Some members of the Council feared that such a measure would dilute the Council's independence. No such measures had been implemented by year's end.
The Universities and University Colleges Act also restricted freedom of association. This act mandates university approval for student associations and prohibits student associations, as well as faculty members, from engaging in political activity. However, there were no reports that students were suspended during the year, as had occurred in the past. Restrictions are not enforced as vigorously on students who participate in political activities in support of the ruling coalition. A university vice chancellor must approve campus demonstrations. Many students, NGO's, and opposition political parties called for the repeal or amendment of the act. A number of ruling coalition organizations and politicians also supported reexamination of the act, but the Government stated that the act still is necessary.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the Government places some restrictions on this right. Islam is the official religion; however, the practice of Islamic beliefs other than Sunni Islam is restricted severely. Religious minorities, which include large Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, and Sikh communities, generally worship freely, although with some restrictions. Government funds support an Islamic religious establishment, and it is official policy to "infuse Islamic values" into the administration of the country. The Government imposed Islamic religious law (Shari'a) on Muslims only in some matters and it does not impose Shari'a beyond the Muslim community. 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 (and other Muslims) in some matters. The Government also grants funds to non-Islamic religions, but to a more limited degree.
According to 1991 government census figures, the principal religions are: Islam (59 percent of the population, the majority of whom are Sunni); Buddhism (18 percent); Christianity (8 percent); Hinduism (6 percent); and Confucianism, Taoism, or other religions that originated in China (5 percent).
For Muslims, particularly ethnic Malays, the right to leave the Islamic faith and adhere to another religion is a controversial question. The legal process of conversion is unclear; in law and in practice, it is very difficult for Muslims to change religions. In March 1999, the country's highest court ruled that secular courts have no jurisdiction to hear applications by Muslims to change religions. According to the ruling, the religious conversion of Muslims is solely the jurisdiction of Shari'a courts. The state of Perlis enacted a law that stipulated that Muslims found guilty of apostasy by a Shari'a court are to be sent to "faith rehabilitation centers." Such a bill also has been proposed at the highest level of the Government. Leaders of the opposition Islamic Party have said that the penalty for apostasy should be death.
In 1998 the Government stated that "apostates", that is those who wish to leave or have left Islam for another religion, would not face government punishment as long as they did not defame Islam after their conversion. However, a senior government official stated in September that a faith rehabilitation bill was being prepared that could provide up to a year detention in a faith rehabilitation center for Muslims found guilty of apostasy. Subsequently the Prime Minister stated that the proposed federal and Perlis state bills, both of which aroused considerable controversy, were under further study.
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 were granted very slowly. In July 1999, the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Sikhism (MCCBCHS), an NGO representing minority religions, claimed that the guidelines required an area to have at least 2,000 to 5,000 adherents of a particular non-Muslim faith for a non-Muslim place of worship to be approved. No such requirement exists for Muslim places of worship. The group also argued that, under the guidelines, the state Islamic council must approve the establishment of all non-Muslim places of worship. In August after years of complaints by non-Islamic religious organizations about the need for Islamic authorities in each state to approve construction of non-Islamic religious institutions, the Minister of Housing and Local Government announced that such approval no longer would be required. According to press reports, the new guidelines permit a non-Islamic house of worship to be built in every 0.5 hectare for the use of 2,600 worshippers, or a house of worship for every 5,000 worshippers regardless of the size of the area.
During the controversy over the proposed new guidelines on non-Muslim places of worship, the MCCBCHS and the Federal Territory Counseling and Service Center separately urged the Prime Minister to create a national non-Muslim religious council. Such a council was not established by year's end.
In December 1999, the press reported that the new administrators of the state of Terengganu, the opposition Islamic party PAS, planned to introduce a special tax on non-Muslims. Non-Muslims expressed strong opposition to this proposal. State government leaders said that the press had distorted their plans. No special tax was imposed by year's end.
The proselytizing of Muslims by members of other religions is prohibited strictly; persons proselytizing non-Muslims face no obstacles. The Government discouraged, and in practical terms forbids, 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 prohibited the use of Malay-language religious terms by Christians, but the authorities do not always enforce them actively. The distribution of Malay-language Christian materials faced few restrictions in east Malaysia. Most visas for foreign Christian clergy are approved. Beginning in March, non-Muslim representatives now sit on the immigration committee that approves such visa requests.
The Government opposes what it considers to be deviant interpretations of Islam, maintaining that the "deviant" groups' extreme views endanger national security. In the past, the Government imposed restrictions on certain Islamic groups, primarily the small number of Shi'a. The Government continues to monitor the activities of the Shi'a minority, including those of 55 religious groups believed to be involved in deviant Islamic teachings. In August the Deputy Prime Minister stated that the Government had identified 44 extremist Islamic groups which, according to him, claimed to possess mystical powers of invincibility. In November the Shari'a high court in the state of Kelantan sentenced four persons to 3 years in jail for disregarding a lower court order to "repent" their allegedly heretical Islamic beliefs and "return to the true teachings of Islam." The high court rejected their argument that Shari'a law had no jurisdiction over them because they had ceased to be Muslims.
The Government periodically detains members of what it considers Islamic deviant sects without trial or charge under the ISA. After release, such detainees are subject to restrictions on their movement and residence. For example, in July the Government detained under the Internal Security Act at least 33 members of the Al-Ma'unah sect who reportedly were not suspected of involvement in the early July arms thefts. They remained under ISA detention at year's end (see Sections 1.d. and 1.e.).The Government generally restricts remarks or publications that might incite racial or religious disharmony. This includes some statements and publications critical of particular religions, especially Islam. The Government also restricts the content of sermons at mosques. The Government periodically warns against those who deliver sermons in mosques for "political ends" and, occasionally, state governments banned certain Muslim clergymen from delivering sermons at mosques. In July 1999, the Negeri Sembilan state government banned a state religious department officer from preaching sermons because the officer allegedly had given a political speech during one of his sermons. In February 1999, the state of Selangor lifted a ban on a former mufti (the highest state Muslim leader) of Selangor. He allegedly had called the Prime Minister an apostate (see Section 2.a.). Throughout the year, the Government spoke out against what it considered the political use of mosques by the opposition Islamic Party PAS and several state governments, which are responsible for oversight of local religious matters, barred some opposition religious figures from speaking in mosques (see Section 2.a.).
After the November 1999 national elections, the Government significantly expanded efforts to restrict the activities of the Islamic opposition party at mosques. Several states announced measures including banning opposition-affiliated imams from speaking at mosques, more vigorously enforcing existing restrictions on the content of sermons, replacing mosque leaders and governing committees thought to be sympathetic to the opposition, and threatening to close unauthorized mosques with ties to the opposition. The Government justified such measures as necessary to oppose the "politicization of religion" by the opposition.
In December 1999, Prime Minister Mahathir said that ways should be found to prevent the opposition from "spreading lies" at mosques. Also in December 1999, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi directed the religious affairs department to conduct background checks on religious speakers to find out whether the speakers disseminated "wrongful information" that may have influenced civil servants to stop supporting the Government. Also in December 1999, Selangor state government officials announced that they were investigating mosque committee members with links to the opposition. Officials threatened to expel opposition sympathizers from mosque committees. At year's end, no action had been taken. Also in December 1999, Johor state officials said that they had identified several "political" religious leaders who had criticized the Government. The state government threatened "stern action," but at year's end, no action had been taken. In October the Chief Minister of Kelantan, who is also the spiritual adviser for the opposition Islamic party PAS, was banned from speaking at a mosque in Selangor. The Chief Minister spoke despite the ban and vowed that he would continue to speak wherever he was invited. He was warned of prosecution if he defied the ban again. The mosque officers who allegedly allowed him to speak were not prosecuted, but they were required to attend a counseling session.
For Muslim children, religious education according to a government-approved curriculum is compulsory. There are no restrictions on home instruction.
In July 1999, the Government announced a plan to take control of state religious schools. (Under the Constitution religion is a matter for state governments.) The chief minister of the opposition-controlled state of Kelantan rejected the plan. In response, former federal Education Minister Datuk Seri Najib said that the Government would find a way to take over Kelantan's religious schools. In October 1999, the Government announced that religious schools could choose to be incorporated wholly or partially into the federal school system beginning this year; however, at year's end, the plan had not yet been implemented, and its implications were unclear.
In June the Government announced that all Muslim civil servants must attend religious classes, but only classes in Islam would be held. In addition only teachers approved by the Government would be employed.
In January 1999, the Selangor state government announced the formation of a government interreligious consultative council that included representatives of all major religions. The council's stated objectives were to prevent interreligious conflict, to promote interreligious understanding, and to address moral and social problems jointly.
The Government has a comprehensive system of preferences for ethnic Malays and members of a few other groups known collectively as "bumiputras," most of whom are Muslim (see Section 5).
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Citizens generally have the right to travel, live, and work where they please; however, the Government restricts these rights in some circumstances. The East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak have the right to control immigration and to require citizens from peninsular West Malaysia and foreigners to present passports or national identity cards for entry. In 1998 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 been involved in several lawsuits against the state government. In May 1999, the Sabah state government filed an appeal of the ruling, which is still pending. The federal Government regulates the internal movement of provisionally released ISA detainees (see Section 1.d.). The Government also uses the Restricted Residence Act to limit movements of those suspected of some criminal activities (see Section 1.d.).
The Government generally does not restrict emigration.
Citizens must apply for the Government's permission to travel to Israel. Travel to Jerusalem for a religious purpose is allowed explicitly.
The Government has not ratified the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, and the Government rejected customary international law in this area. The Government does not recognize the principle of first asylum; however, it sometimes grants temporary refuge to asylum seekers. In September 1999, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar said that "we allow people for temporary stay and when that stay is over they have to go back. We have never granted anybody refugee status." The Government continues to refuse to acknowledge that any Indonesian illegal aliens, including Acehnese, have a claim to refugee status. The Government has not made a concerted attempt to find and detain illegal Acehnese or other Indonesians; however, at least two refugees recognized by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) were deported to Indonesia during the year. In 1998 the Government forcibly returned several hundred Acehnese, despite representations from the UNHCR and the international community and evidence that the Acehnese might face persecution upon return to Indonesia.
A Human Rights Watch report published in August on the condition of illegal Burmese Rohingyas in the country stated that they can be subject to arrest and detention in immigration camps. In the report, former detainees made detailed allegations of deaths in these camps due to beatings and inhuman conditions in the 1990's (see Sections 1.a. and 1.c.). The conditions in the camps remained a cause for concern; however, there were no reports of similar deaths during the year. After the Human Rights Watch report was released, the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (ABIM) declared the report "untrue." One Abim official, a self-exiled Rohingya, described the Government's treatment of the Rohingyas as "humane." The Malaysian Human Rights Commission currently is investigating allegations made in the Human Rights Watch report, and it defended the Government's handling of refugee claimants and illegal immigrants in general. UNHCR officials stated that approximately 10,000 Rohingyas in the country are de facto stateless persons; however, the vast majority do not qualify for refugee status under international law. In 1999 the UNHCR received 1,473 applications for refugee status from Rohingya asylum seekers and granted refugee status in only 43 cases.
The Government did not restrict the access of undetained asylum seekers to the UNHCR office 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 some forced expulsions of asylum seekers and refugees.
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; however, while votes generally are recorded accurately, there are some irregularities that affect the fairness of elections, and in practice opposition parties are unable to compete on equal terms with the governing coalition (which has held power at the national level since 1957) because of significant restrictions on campaigning, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association. Nevertheless opposition candidates campaign actively, with some success in state and national elections. In the November 1999 elections, the opposition roughly doubled its strength to 25 percent of federal parliamentary seats and an opposition party retained control of the Kelantan state government (the opposition won control of one state government in the 1995 elections) and took over the state government of Terengganu. In December the opposition won a seat in the Kedah state assembly in a tightly contested by-election.
Malaysia has a parliamentary system of government. National elections are required at least every 5 years and have been held regularly since independence in 1957. The Malay-based United Malay National Organization party dominates the ruling National Front coalition, which has ruled the country continuously since independence. Since 1969 the National Front coalition always has maintained at least a two-thirds majority in Parliament, which enabled the Government to amend the Constitution at will. Over the years, power increasingly has been concentrated in the executive branch, and the Prime Minister.
The lack of equal access to the media was the most serious problem encountered by the opposition in the November 1999 elections (see Section 2.a.). Government officials frankly stated that government television and radio would not carry reporting on the opposition. The country's two private television stations also had virtually no impartial reporting on the opposition. The mainstream English-language and Malay-language newspapers also carried biased coverage of domestic politics. In addition opposition parties encountered difficulties in placing paid advertisements in newspapers; however, a few opposition advertisements did appear, after editing by the newspapers, in English- and Chinese-language newspapers. On-line newspapers and political websites, which tend to express an independent perspective, grew in popularity during the year.
Opposition leaders credibly claimed that the Election Commission, which is responsible for holding and monitoring elections, did not carry out its duties impartially. The Election Commission is nominally independent, but perceived widely by the opposition to be under the control of the Government. In June 1999, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi said that there was no need to consult the opposition on the appointment of a new election commission chairman. Opposition leaders said that Prime Minister Mahathir's remark that same month that the Government would "not entertain" an opposition demand for a long campaign period in upcoming elections demonstrated the lack of independence of the Election Commission (the Commission has the sole power to set the length of the campaign period). After the 1999 elections, several government officials publicly disputed opposition claims that the Election Commission was biased. Some members of the ruling coalition charged that individual Commission officials supported opposition candidates. The results of the election were released officially in January.
Opposition complaints of irregularities by election officials and allegations of other election fraud during the 1999 campaign were not substantiated during the year, and according to most observers, there was no evidence that the conduct of election officers significantly affected the results of the elections. Opposition leaders also complained that local government officials who served as election officers were not always neutral. For example, in July 1999, the opposition National Justice Party filed a complaint with the Election Commission, accusing a district officer in the State of Perak of participating in an UMNO party event. The Election Commission later announced that it completed its investigation, but it did not reveal its findings. The Government did not permit international monitoring or adequately allow for domestic NGO monitoring efforts during the elections. (The last time that foreign observers monitored elections was in 1990.)
Opposition parties and some NGO's also alleged that defective voting rolls led to some fraudulent votes. In the Sabah state elections in March 1999, opposition leaders accused the ruling coalition of employing "phantom" voters (illegal aliens and other fraudulently documented voters). NGO's analysis of the voting roll used in the national elections also revealed irregularities, such as dead persons on the rolls, multiple voters registered under single identity card numbers, and other anomalies; however, according to most observers, there is no evidence that these irregularities significantly affected the results in more than a handful of races. The Government did not respond to post-election calls by an election-monitoring NGO for a national reregistration exercise to produce a clean electoral roll.
"Postal votes," or absentee ballots by police and military personnel and their spouses, also are a concern. The Government, citing security concerns, does not allow party agents to monitor absentee ballot boxes placed on military and police installations. Opposition parties questioned the rationale for such security restrictions. Opposition parties and NGO's have raised credible allegations of improper manipulation of postal votes, including statements by former military personnel that their ballots were filled out by others or under the eye of commanding officers. For the November 1999 elections, the Election Commission changed some procedures to allow better monitoring by Election Commission officers. Opposition parties continued to call for monitoring of postal votes by party agents. Election Commission officials estimated before the November election that roughly 235,000 postal votes would be cast. No count of the actual number of postal votes was published by year's end.
The anonymity of balloting also is a potential concern. Ballots are marked with a serial number that could be matched against a voter's name. While there is no evidence that the Government ever has traced individual votes, some opposition leaders have alleged that the potential to do so has a chilling effect on some voters, particularly civil servants.
Gerrymandering diluted the votes of some citizens. The Constitution states that parliamentary constituencies should have roughly equal numbers of eligible voters, although the same section states that greater weight should be given to rural constituencies. In practice these guidelines often are ignored. For example, in Sabah constituencies are weighted strongly 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. The single member, winner-take-all system also diminishes the political power of the minority groups. Because of the changing dynamics of ethnic politics, ethnic gerrymandering of parliamentary constituencies, used against the opposition in the past, is believed to no longer be as great an advantage to the ruling coalition.
Other government measures hamper the opposition's ability to compete with the incumbent ruling coalition. For example, the Government on several occasions issued public warnings to civil servants, including teachers (see Section 2.a.) not to support the opposition. Students face certain restrictions on political activity (see Section 2.b.). Government leaders routinely and openly threatened to suspend the allocation of federal funds beyond the constitutionally mandated minimum to constituencies that elected opposition representatives. Ruling coalition Members of Parliament received a government allocation totaling in aggregate roughly $25 million (95 million ringgit). Opposition Members of Parliament receive no such funds. In July 1999, a government minister told Parliament that the money only was given to ruling coalition Members of Parliament because it came from the Government.
The opposition has complained in the past about restrictions on public assemblies during the campaign period (see Section 2.b.). However, in the period prior to the November 1999 elections, police did not implement restrictions vigorously, and the opposition held many large rallies. The opposition also has stated that the short official campaign period gives an advantage to the incumbent ruling coalition. However, de facto campaigning began long before the elections, and there is little evidence that the short official campaign period had much practical effect.
In August 1999, Prime Minister Mahathir stated that the ruling coalition's failure to win a two-thirds majority in Parliament in 1969 had resulted in widespread rioting and said that if a "weak government" were elected, "the peace of the country could not be guaranteed." Opposition leaders complained that these statements were a threat to instigate violence if the ruling coalition should lose the two-thirds majority in the upcoming elections. Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang called on the Government to pledge to accept the results of the upcoming election. The Government did not respond.
Prime Minister Mahathir said in June 1999 that he expected the November 1999 elections to be "the dirtiest ever." For different reasons, the opposition expressed similar fears. The Government did not respond to the opposition's call for an election code to ensure that these elections would be free, fair, and clean. A group of NGO's formed an independent elections watch organization. The Election Commission stated that the NGO's were free to do so, but the organization was accorded no special privileges. (The law does not provide for monitoring of polling stations except by political party agents.) In June 1999, the Government publicly rejected the idea of foreign observers. The Government also rejected opposition calls for foreign observers in Sabah state elections in March. After the election, the Prime Minister continued to allege that the opposition engaged in unfair tactics, including slander.
Under the electoral law, unsuccessful candidates may appeal election results to special election courts in instances of alleged fraud, vote tampering, or other infractions of electoral rules. After the November 1999 elections, 21 petitions were filed by losing candidates from both the ruling and opposition coalitions. According to the Elections Commission, all petitions were dismissed. In March the High Court ruled that the Election Commission and returning officers may not be named as "necessary parties" in petitions filed with election courts by unsuccessful candidates. In April the Cabinet approved the creation of an election appellate court to provide an additional opportunity to seek redress for unsuccessful candidates whose election petitions were denied by election courts. Also in April, the Cabinet approved the creation of an Election Appellate Court to provide an additional opportunity to seek redress for unsuccessful candidates whose election petitions were denied by election courts. All remaining election appeals from the 1999 Sabah state elections in which opposition parties filed objections to the results of 17 of 48 seats were dismissed by election courts or withdrawn by the parties during the year.
In the past, within the ruling UMNO party, there had been active political debate. "No-contest" rules for leadership positions and generally increased intolerance of dissent limited but did not eliminate UMNO's role as a vehicle for public debate. However, after the removal of Deputy Prime Minister Anwar in 1998, intolerance of dissent within UMNO increased, and an extraordinary UMNO Assembly in 1998 approved a series of measures designed to limit independent grassroots initiatives. During the year, there were no contests for the top two leadership positions in UMNO. At the UMNO General Assembly in May, 3 vice president slots and 25 elected seats on the Supreme Council were contested vigorously, with a number of candidates known not to be favored by party leaders. It had been announced before the General Assembly that there would be no contest for the party president and deputy president, positions held respectively by Prime Minister Mahathir and Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah.
Over the years, Parliament's function as a deliberative body has deteriorated. Legislation proposed by the Government rarely is amended or rejected. Legislation proposed by the opposition never is given serious consideration; however, during the 1999 elections, the opposition increased the number of seats it held. Opposition opportunities to hold legislation up to public scrutiny have diminished. 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 members he considered unruly 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. Further measures in 1997 and 1998 limited members' opportunities to question and debate government policies even more severely. Nonetheless, government officials often faced sharp questioning in Parliament, although this was not always reported in detail in the mainstream press.
State assemblies also limited debate. 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.
Women face no legal limits on participation in government and politics; however, they remain underrepresented in government and politics due to social and other factors. At year's end, 2 of 28 cabinet ministers were women. Women hold 20 of 193 seats in the elected lower house of Parliament, and they hold 19 of 69 seats in the appointed upper house. In May Datuk Dr. Zeti Akhtar Aziz assumed the post of Central Bank Governor. She is the first woman to be appointed to the post. On December 19, the King announced the appointment of Ainum Mohamed Saaid as the new Attorney General, the first woman to hold this position. Ainum is to serve as the Government's top legal advisor and as the Public Prosecutor, with wide discretionary powers for a 2-year term beginning on January 1, 2001. In 1998 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 1998 rate of participation (defined as the percentage of female representatives in Parliament and in state assemblies) was 6 to 7 percent. The Islamic opposition party does not allow female candidates to stand as candidates for the lower house; however, the Party has one female senator. In the past, it has supported female candidates of other parties.
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 26 cabinet posts and 14 of 28 deputy minister positions. An ethnic Chinese leader of a component party of the ruling coalition holds executive power in the state of Penang.
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, devoted considerable attention to human rights. The Government generally tolerates their activities but often does not respond to their inquiries or press statements. However, Government officials met with NGO's on several occasions during the year. The results of these meetings were not made public. Government officials harshly criticize domestic NGO's for collaborating with foreigners, including international human rights organizations. However, at year's end, no group had been banned or decertified. In the past, public apathy and racial divisions (non-Malays had dominated most human rights NGO's) limited the effectiveness of NGO's. However, public discontent over the 1998 removal of and subsequent imprisonment of Deputy Prime Minister Anwar encouraged some NGO's to speak out against the Government, and it has led to the increased involvement of ethnic Malays in NGO activity.
In 1998 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. In May 1999, the Government announced that it was planning to table amendments to the Registration of Businesses Act to enable the Government to track the activities and movements of organizations registered under the act (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. AI has registered itself as a private company. A February 1999 report issued by the IPU on prison conditions (see Section 1.c.) noted that, while the Government welcomed the December 1998 investigative mission, the IPU delegation was not able to make important appointments and was not allowed to meet privately with Lim Guan Eng. Several foreign human rights observers have attended sessions of Anwar's two trials.
Government officials reacted sharply to a report entitled "Justice in Jeopardy: Malaysia in 2000," which was issued early in the year by the International Bar Association, the Centre for the Independence of Judges, and lawyers from the International Commission of Jurists, the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, and the International Lawyers Union. The report was the result of the findings of a three-man team that spent 10 days in Malaysia in April 1999. The report concluded that "the extremely powerful Executive in Malaysia has not acted with due regard for the essential elements of a free and democratic society based on the rule of law."
In early April, the Government announced that former Deputy Prime Minister Musa Hitam would head the National Human Rights Commission provided for in legislation passed by Parliament in July 1999. Twelve other members also were named, including retired jurists, consumer activists, and academics. The commission's functions and powers include promoting awareness of human rights, helping the Government to draft laws and regulations concerning human rights, advising the Government on acceding to human rights treaties, inquiring into human rights complaints, inspecting places of detention, and hearing witnesses and receiving evidence on human rights questions. The legislation that created the commission defines human rights as "the fundamental liberties provided for" in the federal Constitution and restricts the application of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to those provisions consistent with the Constitution. In 1999 prior to the commission's creation, opposition leaders and NGO's, including the Bar Council, criticized the definition of human rights as too narrow. They also were skeptical of the Government's pledges that it would be independent. In May the commission announced four working groups: One to promote human rights awareness and education; a second to advise and assist the Government in formulating legislation and procedures; a third to make recommendations to the Government on accession to treaties and other international human rights instruments; and a fourth to investigate complaints of human rights violations. The commission received its first complaint in April from three NGO members in Penang, who claimed that they were mistreated by police after being arrested during a rent-control protest in February. Later in April, the commission announced that it would investigate reports of abuse received by demonstrators detained during the April 15 demonstration in support of Anwar Ibrahim (see Sections 1.c. and 2.b.). In early August, Musa Hitam publicly supported the right of citizens to assemble peacefully outside the courthouse at which the verdict in Anwar Ibrahim's sodomy trial was to be announced (see Section 2.b.). (Police did not interfere with three members of the commission who observed the demonstrations outside the courthouse on August 8.) During the year, the Commission met with human rights NGO's, government ministries, representatives from the ruling, and opposition parties, and recommended that human rights issues and problems be incorporated into school curriculums. The commission also met several times with senior police officials, who agreed to allow the commission to provide human rights training to the police. However, the commission is not empowered to inquire into allegations relating to ongoing court cases. In December the Human Rights Commission opened an inquiry into and took public testimony about allegations of police misconduct during a November 5 rally organized by the opposition. It also must cease its inquiry if an allegation under investigation becomes a subject matter of a court.
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 based on religion, race, descent, or place of birth; however, discrimination based on some factors persists. For example, government policies give preferences to ethnic Malays in housing, home ownership, the awarding of government contracts, educational scholarships, and other areas. Although neither the Constitution nor laws explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sex or disabilities, the Government has attempted to eliminate discrimination against women and promote greater public acceptance of the disabled.
Violence against women remains a problem, although statistics indicated that the problem has decreased during the year. 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. In December 1999, a women's NGO issued a report that stated that the incidence of rape had increased 48 percent in the 5-year period from 1993 to 1998 more than 50 percent of rape victims are under age 16. Statistics from the Royal Malaysian Police show 1,217 reported cases of rape during the year. Many hospitals have set up crisis centers where victims of rape and domestic abuse can make reports without going to a police station. NGO's and political parties also cooperate 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. According to an NGO study involving 417 court files from 7 state capitals and Kuala Lumpur, even when alleged rape is reported, only one of five cases is heard in court. Only half of the court cases resulted in a rape conviction. Some rapists receive heavy punishments, including caning, but women's groups complain that some rapists receive inadequate punishments. Section 376 of the Penal Code stated that a convicted rapist shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not less than 5 years and not more than 20 years.
Spousal abuse has drawn considerable government, NGO, and press attention. Awareness of the severity and prevalence of this problem is growing and may be leading to a decrease in its incidence. In 1990 the only national survey ever conducted on battered women showed that 1.8 million women (approximately 39 percent of respondents) above the age of 15 had been beaten physically by their husbands or boyfriends. A local women's NGO and a well-known social marketing company conducted the survey using a nationally representative random sampling of adults residing in peninsular Malaysia in 1989. However, statistics released at year's end by the Royal Malaysian Police show that 3,468 cases of domestic violence were reported during the year, which represents nearly a 10 percent decrease in the number of reported cases compared to 1999 (3,806).
The 1996 Domestic Violence Act addresses violence against women in the home. However, women's groups criticized the act as inadequate and called for amendments to strengthen it. In their view, the act fails to protect women in immediate danger by requiring separate reports of abuse to be filed with both the Welfare Department and the police. This requirement causes delay in the issuance of a restraining order against the perpetrator. Women's rights activists also highlighted the fact that because the act is a part of the Penal Code, legal protection for victims is limited to cases in which visible evidence of physical injury is present, despite its interpretation to include sexual and psychological abuse. In April the Government announced that the Domestic Violence Act would be reviewed to determine weaknesses in the law and eliminate legal loopholes; however, the Government had taken no action by year's end.
Although the Government, NGO's, and political parties have formed shelters and offer other assistance to battered spouses, activists asserted that support mechanisms remain inadequate. Police responses to complaints of domestic violence were more professional and sensitive than in previous years, but problems remained and cultural attitudes are still an impediment.
Domestic violence complaints are rare in Islamic law (Shari'a) courts (six cases in 1997). Some Shari'a experts have urged Muslim women to become more aware of the provisions of Shari'a that prohibit spousal abuse and provide for divorces on grounds of physical cruelty. Nonetheless, Shari'a generally (each state has a separate 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. Theoretically a man who raped his wife could face charges of assault; however, women's rights activists claim that no man has been convicted in such circumstances.
A 1998 International Labor Organization (ILO) study estimated that there were roughly 40,000 to 140,000 prostitutes in the country. The Government strongly disputed this estimate, and the police stated that they would investigate NGO's that might have provided the information that formed the basis of the study. However, from January through August alone, the Royal Malaysian police arrested 2,338 foreign prostitutes (see Section 6.f.). Sex tourism is not legal, and the level of such activity is not high.
A women's rights NGO stated in 1998 that the economic downturn had forced more local women into prostitution. In February 1999, the press reported a 1998 study by the national population and family development board that showed that the economic downturn had decreased the demand for prostitution.
The same women's rights NGO cited government statistics showing an upturn in the number of arrests for prostitution. A government source substantiated this claim by noting that the increase in arrests was due to more vigorous enforcement. Police also believed that the increasing number of arrests was a result of greater numbers of women being brought to the country from countries of the former Soviet Union (see Section 6.f.).
Malaysia is a source, transit, and destination country for trafficking in women for purposes of prostitution (see Section 6.f.).
In August 1999, the Ministry of Human Resources issued a Code of Practice on the Prevention and Eradication of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace. Women's groups noted the code's detailed definition of sexual harassment and attempted to raise public awareness of the problem, but they criticized the fact that adherence to the code is voluntary and not legally binding. The Code of Practice has no legal effect and earlier plans for a sexual harassment law apparently have been abandoned. Women's rights activists claimed that a law on sexual harassment would be more effective than a code of practice. In the first year following the issuance of the code, the Human Resources Minister asked women's groups and labor unions to give the code "a chance to work." He advocated voluntary compliance by employers and advised unions to incorporate policies against sexual harassment into their collective labor agreements. The Malaysian Employers Federation has criticized publicly any attempt to legislate against sexual harassment in the workplace, arguing that government-imposed policies would unduly restrict the management of labor relations.
Since the code was introduced in August 1999, the number of reported incidents of sexual harassment has risen. The Labor Department reported that since the initiation of the code, it received two to three reports of sexual harassment per week. This was a large increase over 1998, during which the Ministry of Human Resources received only 6 reports of sexual harassment cases in the first 6 months of that year, and only a total of about 30 since 1996. However, there are still many cultural obstacles to women who try to pursue sexual harassment charges.
Despite increased public awareness of the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace, the Government acknowledged in August that the reluctance of employers to adopt the code may force it to enact additional legislation regarding sexual harassment. A year after it was enacted, only 99 companies in the country had adopted the code. A coalition of 64 women's rights groups compiled a memorandum with over 12,000 signatures proposing that the Government make the code legally binding. Upon receipt of the memorandum, the Human Resources Minister stated that his Ministry would form a committee to include women's rights activists, employers, union representatives, and ministry officials to study the request. The Government made no decision on whether to enact legislation against sexual harassment by year's end.
Women continue to be the 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 Shari'a. Polygyny is allowed and practiced to a limited degree. Islamic inheritance law varies by state, but it generally favors male offspring and relatives. However, one state, Negeri Sembilan, provides for matrilineal inheritance. The number of women obtaining divorces under the provisions of Shari'a that allow for divorce without the husband's consent, while small, is increasing steadily.
In August the Deputy Prime Minister announced that mothers may now sign official documents on behalf of their minor children, a significant change from past government policy, under which only a father's signature legally was recognized on official documentation. The Government publicized the decision as an attempt to eliminate sexual discrimination in government policies. Women's rights activists pointed out that the decision recognized women's equality with men under the law. The policy change is likely to confer the largest benefit on single mothers who are estranged from their husbands. In announcing the change, the Deputy Prime Minister stated that existing legislation did not require amendment; only administrative procedure would change. This administrative change was implemented in December.
There were complaints about the treatment of women by Islamic courts. A 1998 report on women and the law published by a coalition of women's NGO's defined two basic problems: prejudicial interpretation of Islamic family law against women; and the lack of uniformity in the implementation of family laws among the various states. An April 1999 press report described complaints by NGO's and women's groups of rude and insensitive treatment by staff and officers of Islamic courts. In May 1999, the women's wing of UMNO stated that it would act to help accelerate and improve the handling of women's problems by Islamic courts.
Muslim couples are required to take premarital courses. In previous years, women's activists claimed that in some instances the courses, as implemented, perpetuated gender discrimination by misinforming women of their rights in marriage. There were no reports during the year of such misinformation regarding marriage rights.
State governments in Kelantan and Terrengganu, which are controlled by the Islamic opposition party, made efforts to restrict Muslim women's dress during the year. In March the Terrengganu state government introduced a dress code for government employees and workers on business premises. Terrengganu's executive counselor in charge of women's and non-Muslim's affairs claimed that the dress code was designed to protect the image of Muslim women and promote Islam as a way of life. Several women's NGO's criticized the state government's decision as depriving women of personal choice. One Muslim women's NGO criticized the new requirement, stating that forced compliance with a state-mandated dress code is not consistent with the values of the Koran.
On March 23, Muslim women working in food stalls and video rental stores in Kelantan were fined about $8 (30 ringgit) for not wearing a head covering. The maximum fine for individual offenders is about $66 (250 ringgit), and the state government warned that employers with repeat offenders may lose their operating licenses.
Non-Muslim women are subject to civil (secular) law. Changes in the Civil Marriage and Divorce Act in the early 1980's increased the protection of married women's rights, especially those married under customary rites. The Guardianship of Women's and Infants Act was amended in July 1999 to give mothers equal parental rights. Four states extended the provisions of the amended bill to Muslim mothers. Women's groups urged all states to do the same. In June 1999, the Land and Cooperative Development Ministry announced that it was considering amending the Group Settlement Act to give wives of settlers a stake in the land awarded to their husbands. The Group Settlement Act had not been amended by year's end.
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 representation of women at universities increased from 29 percent in 1970 to one-half of the student population in recent years. According to statistics released in June in the Government's Economic Report 2000-2001, which is published by the Ministry of Finance, women constitute 44 percent of the labor force. The proportion of women in the civil service has risen from roughly 33 percent in 1990 to roughly 41 percent and women occupy some high-ranking civil service positions. In April 1999, Malaysian Trade Union Congress President Zainal Rampak urged trade unions to fulfill the ILO policy of filling 30 percent of leadership positions with women; however, current statistics were not disclosed.
The Government has demonstrated a commitment to children's rights and welfare; it spends roughly 20 percent of the national budget on education. The Government provides free education for children through the age of 15. Although primary education is deemed compulsory by the Government, there is no legal requirement or enforcement mechanism governing school attendance. Actual attendance at primary school is 96 percent. Secondary school attendance is 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 December Parliament passed the Child Act of 2000. The Act incorporates the 1989 principles of the U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child, which the Government ratified in 1995. The act stipulates heavier punishments for child abuse, molestation, neglect, and abandonment. It also mandates the formation of a children's court, which, the Government stated, would better protect the interests of children. The bill allows caning, but this punishment is limited to male children, who may receive a maximum of 10 strokes with a "light cane." The new law repealed three other laws governing child prostitution, child abuse, and delinquency, including the Women and Girls Protection Act, the Juvenile Courts Act, and the Child Protection Act.
The Government recognizes that sexual exploitation of children and incest are problems. Incest in particular is a problem in rural areas. Child abuse receives wide coverage in the press. The Government sternly prosecutes cases of child abuse, and child molesters receive heavy jail sentences and caning. However, 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. Some judges and others have recommended that the Evidence Act be amended to accept the evidence of children and that courts implement special procedures to hear the testimony of children. 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 1998 there were 600 cases. In August 1999, a physician who studies child abuse acknowledged publicly that sexual abuse of children occurred in the country.
Statutory rape occurs and is prosecuted. However, Islamic law provisions that consider a Muslim girl an adult after she has had her first menstruation sometimes complicate prosecution of statutory rape. Such a girl may be charged with "khalwat" or "close proximity" (the charge usually used to prosecute premarital or extramarital sexual relations), even if she is under the age of 18 and her partner is an adult. Thus, Shari'a sometimes punishes the victims of statutory rape. Moreover, Shari'a courts sometimes are more lenient with males who are charged with "close proximity." However, in many cases Muslim men are charged and punished for statutory rape under secular law.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is condemned widely by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health. According to a well known women's NGO activist, some girls in provincial areas are subject to varying forms of FGM. Some Malay girls receive a tiny ritual cut to the clitoris or participate in a ceremony where a blade is brought close 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.
Child prostitution exists. However, child prostitutes often are treated as delinquents rather than victims. In 1998 the Minister of National Unity and Social Development stated 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 (see Section 6.f.).
Child labor occurs in certain areas of the country (see Section 6.d.).
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. In August 1999, former Minister of National Unity and Social Development Zaleha said that only 10 percent of residential and commercial buildings were "disabled-friendly." In September 1999, Zaleha announced a cabinet decision to require that 10 percent of houses in all new housing projects be disabled friendly. In December 1999, Zaleha reportedly said that "all buildings" would be made accessible to the disabled within 2 years.
The Government increased efforts to address the needs of persons with disabilities during the year. In October the Ministry of Housing and Local Government announced that the uniform building by-laws of 1984 would be amended to ensure that all newly constructed buildings include a full range of facilities for the disabled, including special parking lots, elevators, and restrooms. In November the Human Resources Ministry announced plans to draft a code of ethics for employers by 2001 to address the needs of the disabled including additional employment opportunities, job discrimination, and disabled-friendly work environments. In addition the 2001 federal budget includes several provisions to ease financial burdens on disabled citizens and improve work, education, and training opportunities. In November the Human Rights Commission recommended amending the Constitution's antidiscrimination provision to include legal protection for people with disabilities.
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 undertaken 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. Provisions for the disabled in the 2001 budget include several allowances for tax relief for working spouses of disabled persons, full exemption for all medical fees at government hospitals, and full exemption on fees for travel documents. All equipment designed specifically for use by disabled persons would also be exempt from all import duties and sales taxes. Recognizing that public transportation is not disabled-friendly, the Government is reducing the excise duty for disabled persons on locally made cars and motorcycles by 50 percent.
In August 1999, an NGO representing the disabled stated that the disabled make up 7 percent of the population. The NGO urged the Government to increase its support for the disabled. Disabled persons do not enjoy explicit legal protection against discrimination.
Indigenous groups and persons that is the descendants of the original inhabitants of peninsular Malaysia and the Borneo states) generally enjoy the same constitutional rights as the rest of the population. However, in practice federal laws pertaining to indigenous people vest almost total power in the minister responsible for indigenous people (the Minister of National Unity and Social Development during the year) to protect, control, and otherwise decide issues concerning them. As a result, indigenous people, particularly in peninsular Malaysia, have very little ability to participate in decisions.
Under the 1954 Aboriginal People's Act (amended in 1974), indigenous people in peninsular Malaysia (known as Orang Asli), 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 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. Finance Minister Tun Daim Zainuddin announced in May 1999 that a total of 314,715 acres of land would be reserved for Orang Asli. The Government urged the states to follow up on Daim's announcement. The leader of a leading Orang Asli NGO welcomed the announcement, but urged the Government to proceed quickly. The NGO pointed out that the total area of land actually reserved for Orang Asli had declined, not increased, since 1990.
Surveying and transfer of title apparently has proceeded very slowly; however, during the year a number of Orang Asli received land titles, and several state governments announced that land was being set aside for Orang Asli. The 2001 federal budget provides for a $26 million (100 million ringgit) allotment to the Orang Asli community to eradicate poverty, improve education and social welfare, and improve infrastructure of resettlement villages. In addition National Unity and Social Development Minister Siti Zaharah Sulaiman announced in November a "stay in school" program to address the increasing number of school drop-outs in the Orang Asli community. The Government allocated $1.2 million (4.8 million ringgit) for the project.
The uncertainty surrounding Orang Asli land ownership makes them vulnerable to exploitation. There were many reports of Orang Asli who were cheated, misled, or otherwise exploited by land developers. In some cases, the Orang Asli have sued. In the state of Pahang, about 200 Orang Asli held a protest demonstration in September over land disputes. The state government said that it would give serious attention to their complaints.
Although state law recognizes the right of indigenous people to land under "native customary rights," in the eastern part of the country, 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 to be theirs because of customary rights. Laws allowing condemnation and purchase of land did not require more than perfunctory notifications in newspapers to which indigenous people may have no access. The result was that many indigenous people were deprived of their traditional lands with little or no legal recourse. In May the Sarawak state assembly passed amendments to the state land code that the state government said would increase the rights of indigenous people to exert control over their traditional lands. A group of NGO's disputed the government's characterization of the legislation and stated that it would in fact further diminish the ability of indigenous peoples to defend their rights on land issues. Indigenous people displaced by the Bakun Dam project in Sarawak continue to protest the lack of transparency in the resettlement process, inadequate compensation for their lands and homes, and destruction of their traditional way of life. However, the state government dismissed these complaints, claiming that only the older generation have reservations about the resettlement program.
In November the Human Rights Commission received complaints from three different groups representing the indigenous Iban and Penan peoples in Sarawak. The indigenous groups alleged that they were being victimized by logging companies illegally encroaching on their lands. One Penan group submitted a report of written testimonies entitled, "Not Development, but Theft," detailing how logging companies use police force and intimidation to appropriate land from indigenous communities. The Human Rights Commission pledged to investigate the matter with the state government of Sarawak and the indigenous communities. The commission also announced its intention to inquire about the use of police force by the logging companies (see Section 1.c.).
The Orang Asli, who number roughly 100,000, are the poorest group in the country; however, according to government officials, Orang Asli gradually are attaining comparable levels of standards of living as other citizens, and the percentage of Orang Asli who lead nomadic lifestyles has dropped to less than 40 percent. Government development projects for the Orang Asli are announced from time to time. However, according to press reports, the head of an NGO working with Orang Asli said in May that school dropout rates among Orang Asli had increased markedly over previous years, and the percentage of Orang Asli living below the poverty line was increasing as well. Several NGO's complained that Orang Asli were compensated inadequately after they were displaced by a dam project in the state of Selangor.
The trial of a group of Iban tribesmen charged with the 1999 murder in Sarawak of four Chinese workers who worked for a company that was encroaching on their land to establish a palm oil plantation continued. The case still was pending in court at year's end.
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. Ethnic Indian Malaysians continued to lag behind in the country's economic development. The Chinese minority does not benefit from the preferential policies that benefit ethnic Malays.
Public questioning of the preference rights of ethnic Malays is a sensitive issue. Senior UMNO officials have warned non-Malays against "playing with fire." In August a group of youth members of UMNO became unruly at a rally held outside a Chinese assembly hall in the wake of public comments by a Chinese association that allegedly questioned the granting of special rights and privileges for Malays. Some of the demonstrators threatened to burn down the hall. Chinese groups in the ruling coalition demanded action against the perpetrators. The Government had taken no action by year's end.
6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
By law most workers have the right to engage in trade union activity, but less than 10 percent of the work force is represented by one of the country's 544 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. No legal barrier prevents foreign workers from joining a trade union; however, the Immigration Department places conditions on foreign workers' permits that effectively bars them from joining a trade union (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 International Labor Organization (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 the congresses must register as societies under the Societies Act (see Section 2.b.).
In January 1999, the Trade Unions Department reported that in 1998 it had issued notices to 206 trade unions threatening them with deregistration for failing to submit reports of their accounts. A leading trade union leader said that he was "puzzled" by the Trade Union's Department statement and would seek further clarification. Also in February 1999, the Human Resources Minister said publicly that union members' complaints against union leaders were increasing, and the Human Resources Minister said that the Government would amend the Trade Unions Act to make all principal officers of a union liable if the union commits any wrongdoing (now only the secretary general is liable). There were no reports that these amendments were adopted during the year. Some trade unionists claimed that unions that defy government policies face more intense scrutiny, potentially leading to deregistration. However, there were no reports that unions were deregistered.
In September 1999, Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) leader Zainal Rampak complained about delays in registering new unions, and said that new unions often faced delays of several years in registering. Zainal called on the Government to amend the Industrial Relations Act to allow automatic union recognition. In February Zainal said that approximately 100 unions had not been recognized by their employers, despite provisions under the Industrial Relations Act that require an employer to recognize a union within 21 days.
The MTUC continued to call on the Government to ratify ILO Convention 87, which provides for the freedom to join a union; at year's end, the Government still had not done so.
Government policy inhibits 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 MTUC dropped its longstanding objection to this practice, stating that it would be better for the workers to have the in-house unions "than none at all." In February the Minister for Human Resources said that employers should not obstruct the formation of in-house unions. In November MTUC secretary general G. Rajasekaran expressed disappointment that 150,000 electronics workers were still unable to organize. At that time, only eight in-house unions had been formed, according to the MTUC. Collective bargaining agreements are limited in those companies designated as "pioneer status." According to the ILO, the Government has been promising to repeal this statute since 1994.
Even in-house unions sometimes face difficulties. For example, in 1999 an electronics company was picketed by workers several times during the year. Workers called on the company to end litigation and conclude a collective bargaining agreement that has been pending for 10 years. Workers claimed that the company had refused to meet union officials, even though the Department of Trade Unions recognized the union.
Unions maintain independence both from the Government and from political parties, but individual union members may belong to political parties. Although union officers by law may not hold principal offices in political parties, individual trade union leaders have served in Parliament. Trade unions are free to associate with national labor congresses, 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 1998 he was appointed to the Senate. Some union leaders are concerned that the MTUC, under Zainal's leadership, is losing its independence.
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 1967 Industrial Relations Act 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 questioned 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 were extremely rare. In January 1999, the Deputy Human Resources Minister said that the (1997 and 1998) economic downturn was "not affecting industrial harmony" and noted that the country still seldom had strikes.
In June 130 employees of a cooking oil refinery in Johor staged a peaceful picket line to protest a deadlock in negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement. Also in June, after a wildcat strike in which employees accused a Tawainese textile firm of refusing to recognize the union and of mistreating workers, several thousand workers were fired. The employer reinstated the workers after further protests.
There are two national labor organizations. The MTUC is a federation of mainly private sector unions. The Congress of Unions of Employees in the Public and Civil Service (CUEPACS) is a federation of civil servant and teacher unions. Although the law grants public servants the right to organize at the level of ministries and departments, the Government has not responded to ILO requests for specific information on the numbers and categories of civil servant employees covered or details regarding the collective bargaining agreements reached. There are three national joint councils representing management and professional civil servants, technical employees, and nontechnical workers. In May 1999, various trade unions representing port workers announced plans to form a federation, potentially including 12,000 workers. There were no reports of further developments, and at year's end the federation was awaiting recognition by the federal Registrar of Trade Unions. In February the Government approved the establishment of a federation of airline unions that would represent about 20,000 employees in the aviation industry.
In February the Minister of Human Resources said that the Ministry was considering extending the Workmen's Compensation Act to include both local and foreign domestic workers. Foreign domestic workers presently have no protection under the act.
Enterprise unions can associate with international labor bodies and 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, others point out that the Industrial Court almost always sides with the workers in disputes. In August 1999, the press reported an MTUC survey that indicated that employers often ignore Industrial Court judgments with impunity. In January the Minister of Human Resources said that more Industrial Court chairmen would be appointed to deal with a backlog of more than 100 cases and noted that the courts were so congested that new cases could not be scheduled until January 2001. An opposition politician said in March that the backlog of cases approached 5,000.
The Government holds that issues of transfer, dismissal, and reinstatement are internal management prerogatives; therefore they are excluded from collective bargaining – against ILO standards. The Minister of Human Resources can suspend for up to 6 months any trade union that he deems is being used for purposes prejudicial to or incompatible with security or public order.
Companies in free trade zones (FTZ's) must observe labor standards identical to those in the rest of the country. Many workers in 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 generally enforces this prohibition; however, trafficking in women, and occasionally girls, for the purpose of forced prostitution is a problem (see Sections 6.d. and 6.f.). 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 constitutional prohibition renders these laws without effect.
The constitutional prohibition also applies to forced and bonded labor by children. Forced and bonded child labor is rare, and there were no cases reported during the year.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
The 1996 Children and Young Persons (Employment) Act 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 in 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 areas 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 informally in the plantation sector, helping their parents in the field. However, only adult members of the family receive a wage. In urban areas, child labor can be found in family food businesses, night markets, and small-scale industries. Government officials do not deny the existence of child labor in family businesses, but maintain that foreign workers largely have replaced child labor and that the Government vigorously enforces child labor provisions. In September the Government ratified the International Labor Convention 182 on the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor. Forced and bonded labor by children is prohibited and generally is rare; however, occasional trafficking in girls for the purpose of forced prostitution is a problem (see Section 6.c. and 6.f.).
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. However, few workers are 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 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 often do provide a decent living. In May the Human Resources Minister said that nonunion labor would be brought under the wage council system. In May 1999, former Human Resources Minister Datuk Lim Ah Lek said that the Government was not against a minimum wage, but that it was not ready to set the amount at $316 (1,200 ringgit) per month (as proposed by some unions). In June Human Resources Minister Fong Chan Onn reiterated that the Government was not opposed to a minimum wage and said that his ministry wanted to discuss with the MTUC the manner in which the MTUC calculated its new proposal for a $237 (900 ringgit) per month minimum wage.
Plantation workers generally receive either piecework or daily wages. Many NGO's and union officials proposed a monthly wage for plantation workers. In September a support committee representing 80,000 rubber and palm oil workers from 300 plantations called on the Government to set up a special cabinet committee to expedite the implementation of a minimum monthly wage for plantation workers. A spokesperson for the group said such a wage should not be less than $197 (750 ringgit) per month. The Government had taken no action by year's end.
Under the 1955 Employment Act, working hours may not exceed 8 hours per day or 48 hours per workweek of 6 days. Each workweek must include a 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. In May the Appeals Court ruled that a company must give proper notification to its workers when selling its business to another entity. The Appeals Court ruled that compelling an employee to work for a new employer without offering the option to terminate the labor contract amounted to a form of forced labor. The Appeals Court ordered the employers to compensate the workers for failing to give proper notification of sale as prescribed by the Employment Act.
Legal and illegal foreign workers from Indonesia, the Philippines, Burma, Thailand, India, Bangladesh, and other countries constitute about 20 percent of the work force. These workers, who occupy a wide range of menial jobs in the agricultural, industrial, and service sectors. Workers without labor permits have no legal protection under labor laws, and legal workers are prevented from joining trade unions by restrictions imposed by the Immigration Department on their work permits. The MTUC stated in December 1999 that foreign workers should be allowed to organize, but that one of the benefits of a minimum wage law would be to reduce the country's dependence on foreign workers. The Government states that it does not "encourage" foreign workers to join unions and that labor laws are adequate to protect foreign workers' interests.
Significant numbers of contract workers, including numerous illegal immigrants, work on plantations and in other sectors. According to statistics from the National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW), 39 percent of plantation workers are foreigners, with the vast majority from Indonesia and Bangladesh. Working conditions for these laborers compare poorly with those of direct-hire plantation workers, many of whom belong to the NUPW. 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, attempts 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.
The local press reported several cases of abuse of foreign domestic workers. The majority of such cases involved Indonesian women. Foreign domestic workers have no protection under current labor laws. Some of the victims claimed that their employers subjected them to inhuman living conditions, withheld their salaries, and physically assaulted them. Two high-profile cases involved young Indonesian women who reportedly were raped multiple times by their employers. At year's end, no developments had been reported in these cases. Most cases of abuse of foreign workers are the subject of ongoing police investigations. In February the Government acknowledged the problem, and Minister of Human Resources Datuk Dr Fong Chan Onn announced that abused foreign domestic servants may be eligible for compensation under the 1952 Workmen's Compensation Act. The Cabinet commissioned a study of the issue to determine what measures for protection, compensation, and a legal course of action should be available to victims under the act. In October the local press reported four separate cases of physical abuse against foreign domestic workers that were settled when the accused offered compensation to the victim. Section 260 of the Criminal Procedure Code allows certain offenses to be "compounded" with the consent of the complainant, if the perpetrator compensates the victim. The Human Rights Committee of the Bar Council claimed that the settlement gave the public "the overall impression that justice can be bought." A human rights NGO activist called the settlement a "dangerous trend."
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, they meet infrequently and generally are ineffective. In September MTUC president Zainal Rampak called for a review of the three-shift system in the electronics industry, referring to a recent study that concluded that the system contributed to severe stress and workplace accidents among the industry's mainly female work force. During the year, government health and safety officials defended existing legislation, claiming that it provides adequate safeguards for conscientious employers and workers.
Work-related accidents are especially high in the plantation sector. According to the Human Resources Ministry, 14 percent of all reported industrial accidents occurred on plantations. The number of work-related accidents on plantations rose 6 percent in 1999, and statistics from the first half of the year indicated an accident rate comparable with the 1999 figures.
Employers or employees that violate the OSHA are subject to substantial fines or imprisonment for up to 5 years. There are no specific statutory or regulatory provisions that provide a right for workers to remove themselves from dangerous workplace conditions without arbitrary dismissal.
f. Trafficking in Persons
The Constitution prohibits slavery; however, this provision has not been invoked in cases of trafficking in persons, and trafficking in women, and occasionally girls, for the purpose of forced prostitution is a problem. The Penal Code includes special provisions related to trafficking for purposes of prostitution. Sections specifically target minors, prohibiting the sale or hire of anyone under 21 for purposes of prostitution. Another section prohibits the importing of any woman for purposes of prostitution. Punishment for these offenses includes a maximum 10 year prison term or a fine, to be determined at the discretion of the sentencing judge. In November local press reported that implementation of the Child Act 2000, which automatically repeals the 1973 Women and Girls Protection, creates a legal loophole that decriminalizes procuring. The specific offense of procurement had only been covered by the Women and Girls Protection Act. The press reported that the Ministry of National Unity and Social Development was working with the Attorney General's drafting department to close the loophole, but no developments were reported at year's end.
Malaysia is a source, transit, and destination country for trafficking in women and girls for sexual exploitation. During the year, the Royal Malaysian Police arrested 3,607 foreign prostitutes, compared to 3,301 in 1999. Police believe that the increased number of arrests is a result of greater numbers of women being brought to the country from countries of the former Soviet Union. Most prostitutes in the country still come from neighboring Indonesia, the Philippines, Burma, Thailand, and China. These women often work as karaoke hostesses, "guest relations officers," and masseuses. Malaysian women are trafficked for sexual purposes mostly to Singapore, Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, but also to Japan, Australia, Canada, and the United States. According to police and Chinese community leaders, Malaysian women who are victims of traffickers are almost exclusively ethnic Chinese, though ethnic Malay and ethnic Indian women work as prostitutes domestically. Police and NGO's believe that Chinese criminal syndicates are behind most of the trafficking (both incoming and outgoing) of women of all nationalities. The Deputy Home Minister stated in 1997 that 4,200 Malaysian girls and young women were reported missing in 1997. Political parties and NGO's estimate that a portion of these women and girls were victims of traffickers. Authorities prosecute traffickers in child prostitution vigorously.
A few government officials may provide counterfeit documents illicitly to traffickers (although no specific cases were reported), but the Government investigates and punishes those involved in such cases. The Government assists underage girls and has rescued some kidnaped women. Police often raid venues of prostitution. For example, Selangor state police stated that they raided 1,230 suspected "vice dens" during 1999. However, NGO's and women's rights 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. Statistics for apprehension of traffickers are not available. In 1998 the press quoted an anonymous police official as saying that the country had become a "safe haven" for traffickers. A police spokesman who was asked for official comment responded by questioning whether press reporting on trafficking in women was in the national interest.
A local women's NGO is working with the Malaysian Bar Council on draft legislation specifically aimed at prosecuting traffickers and protecting victims.