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Malaysia accuses rights group of sedition

Action criticised as politically motivated

Mike MacLachlan, London

August 8, 2013

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Malaysian authorities are “targeting a prominent human rights organization in what appears to be politically motivated harassment,” rights group Amnesty International has warned.

The accusation follows an announcement by Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Voice of the People – Suaram) that one of its volunteers is being investigated for sedition.

Suaram said a secretariat member and human rights activist, Cynthia Gabriel, was questioned at a police station in the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Petaling Jaya after speaking at a fundraising dinner.

It said police did not tell her what the specific allegation was but asked her questions “unrelated and non-relevant to the Sedition Act,” mainly focusing on what Suaram is and what it stands for.

The dinner was to raise funds for a court case in France relating to alleged corruption involving the Malaysian government.

“The authorities’ harassment and attempts to silence human rights organizations like Suaram run contrary to their duty to protect and promote human rights,” said Isabelle Arradon, AI’s deputy Asia-Pacific director, in a statement on Aug 7.

“It sends a chilling message to human rights defenders in the country and must end. The authorities should immediately clarify exactly why Suaram is being investigated.

The AI statement said harassment of opposition figures “is rife in Malaysia.”

The legal system restricts the right to freedom of expression and assembly, and “Suaram has been a target several times in what appears to be a concerted government campaign.”

It pointed out that the prime minister, Najib Razak, promised in 2012 to abolish the Sedition Act, a measure introduced by the British colonial authorities, but nothing has been done. 

“The Sedition Act is both outdated and repressive,” Arradon said.

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