Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) said the crackdown occurred at a time when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak faced intense pressure to resign over the mismanagement of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and the RM2.6 billion channelled into his bank accounts.
As of November, Suaram recorded a five-fold increase from 2014 of individuals investigated, detained or charged under the controversial Sedition Act, which Najib had promised to repeal in 2012 but instead strengthened this year.
There were 220 individuals or cases under the Sedition Act in 2015 compared with 44 in 2014. In 2013, there were 11 cases and eight in 2012. According to Suaram’s data, it was the highest number since Najib took over as prime minister in 2009.
In The Malaysian Insider’s own survey, this year’s sedition dragnet included politicians who criticised government policies, even though Putrajaya said such criticism would not be unlawful.
Another eyebrow-raising incident was when 163 youths were detained for three days beginning on August 28 under the Sedition Act for attending a pre-Bersih 4 concert.
There also a seven-fold jump in people investigated, detained or charged under the amended Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA).
There were 37 cases this year compared with five in 2014.
“The trend in 2015 was to punish civil society, opposition politicians and human rights defenders. This will definitely continue next year,” said Suaram executive director Sevan Doraisamy.
He said there was proof that the authorities were using the Sedition Act against critics of Najib and the ruling Barisan Nasional government, despite their denials.
For instance, opposition politicians, such as Parti Sosialis Rakyat Malaysia (PSM) leader S. Arutchlevan, were charged in November for criticising the Federal Court decision against Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in February.
Arutchelvan along with PKR and DAP leaders R. Sivarasa and Ng Wei Aik were charged separately after the Sedition Act was amended in June, making it not a crime to criticise government policies and court decisions.
The same thing happened with the Special Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma), said Sevan. Putrajaya promised that it would not be used to silence political criticism.
Yet on September 8, former Umno leader Datuk Seri Khairuddin Abu Hassan was detained for 28 days after lodging reports against 1MDB with six foreign financial authorities.
Next year would not going to be good year for democracy, said Sevan, because of the National Security Council Act 2015, which gave the prime minister the power to declare security areas in parts of the country.
Critics of the act argued that the vagueness of how the government determines what is a national security threat opens it up to abuse, especially when it comes to public rallies.
“Say if a public rally is declared in Kuala Lumpur, the government can come in and declare it a security area to shut down the rally,” said Sevan.
“It’s not going to be an easy year which is why the rakyat must once and for all stand up and be active. You cannot just support human rights groups, you must actively participate in programmes.
“The people now have a greater responsibility than ever to resist.”
By Sheridan Mahavera