KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—A recent report by a prominent human-rights group said Malaysia backtracked on promised legal reforms and restored repressive laws following an election that saw the ruling coalition return to power significantly weakened.
In an annual report that assesses that state of human rights around the globe, New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday that the Southeast Asian country had reneged on its commitment to human rights when five opposition activists were arrested and charged with sedition last May.
Student activist Adam Adil Abd Halim, one of the five, was detained for five days before being released with charge. He was suspended from his university for three semesters. The other four arrested activists have been charged with sedition and are awaiting seperate trials. All four deny the charges.
Prior to May’s election, Mr. Najib said that if he were returned to office he would reform several regulations and revoke others used in the past to quell political dissent. Instead of meeting his election pledge however, Mr. Najib responded to the vote by “curtailing rights rather than respecting them,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
The government responded to the report with a statement saying that “civil liberties have been expanded and outdated laws repealed” since Mr. Najib first took office in 2009.
“Colonial-era security legislation has been replaced with laws appropriate for the 21st century,” a spokesman from the Prime Minister’s Office said in the statement. He did not address the arrests in May.
In July 2012, the government abolished the Internal Security Act, a regulation created during British-colonial rule and designed to curb communist insurgency between the 1940s and 1950s. In more recent years the government had used the law to detain political opponents and hold them without trial.
Laws that restricted news reporting and public assembly have also been relaxed, said the spokesman, noting that a number of rallies held after May’s election occurred without government interference due to the introduction of the Peaceful Assembly Act, which allows for peaceful protests.
However, the Human Rights Watch report stated that “previous progress on human rights in Malaysia was reversed” following amendments made to a crime prevention act last October that allow authorities to detain suspects indefinitely without trial.