KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) notes that Malaysia has won the election to take one of the 18 seats in the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, with 183 votes for the 2022 -2024 term.

In line with this development, we urge the government to promote and uphold its international human rights obligations at the homefront, in promoting our fundamental right to freedom of expression and right to information.

The news came at a moment as the world is emerging from the post Covid-19 pandemic phase where a human rights-centred approach will be necessary for all countries to not just recover but recover equitably.

We have highlighted that between January and August 2021, at a minimum, 17 cases involving 37 individuals, human rights defenders and artists were investigated under this archaic and repressive law such as the Sedition Act 1948.

Authorities also have frequently used harassment tactics toward the media. It is a worrying pattern to see journalists being summoned by the police for their reporting.

This year alone, we saw at least five incidents where journalists are being questioned and investigated.

Even independent filmmakers and graphic artists are often targeted, for example, Freedom Film Network (FFN) over the short animation film ‘Chilli Powder and Thinner’ and Fahmi Reza who has been questioned by the police for the ninth time this year over his satirical posters.

The coming into power of the Perikatan Nasional government in March 2020 saw the continued use of the practice in which the Sedition Act, amongst other repressive laws, being weaponised to suppress critical debates and dissent in Malaysia.

As Malaysia has secured a seat in the UN Human Rights Council and made public pledges to uphold human rights, the government must take sincere and concrete action to improve its human rights record at home.

This international commitment should not remain a mere facade but must be translated into real action and reform at the national level.

We urge the State to show that the reform landscape in Malaysia is not dying, and they remain committed to good governance and accountability based on respect for universal human rights and freedom of expression, assembly, and speech.

In upholding its obligation in promoting our human rights, particularly our constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression and right to information, the following must be guaranteed and adopted without delay:

1) Conduct a comprehensive audit of its international human rights obligations and develop a more progressive plan of action, including in upscaling the National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP) that would cover:

a) An immediate end to the intimidation and harassment of journalists, human rights defenders and other civil society actors in Malaysia who speak out, dissent and demand accountability from the State, including through the application of the repressive laws.

b) Implement an immediate moratorium and move towards the repeal of the Sedition Act 1948, the Official Secrets Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) 1984, Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA), and to reform or amend the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 and Section 504 and 505(b) of the Penal Code.

c) Commit to the enactment of a Right to Information law without any further delay.

2) To develop a concrete timeline and plan of action to immediately move towards the ratification of international human rights treaties, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), amongst others.

3) To institute and establish a national coordinating mechanism that would align all international obligations, including other ratified international treaties such as the Conventional on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD); the Universal Periodic Review; Sustainable Development; and others, to ensure timely reporting and implementation that is harmonised.

It is incumbent on the government to act now and not be complicit in allowing the human rights environment in Malaysia to deteriorate into a situation where human rights defenders and the general public operate within a climate of fear.