Malaysian Court: Rulings Curtail Fundamental Rights

Washington

In response to the Malaysian Federal Court upholding a state’s Sharia law banning “cross-dressing,” the latest in a series of rulings limiting personal rights, Freedom House issued the following statement: 

“This ruling shows the Federal Court’s unwillingness to uphold the fundamental rights and protections guaranteed under the Malaysian Constitution,” said Daniel Calingaert, executive vice-president. “The ‘cross dressing’ ban in Negeri Sembilan and 13 other states in the country allows state, local, and religious authorities to commit serious human rights violations against transgender people, including arbitrary arrest and detention, and physical and sexual assault.” 

Background

The Federal Court ruled on a technicality citing improper procedures used to challenge the Sharia law and without considering the substance of the constitutional challenge. The decision follows a series of court rulings curtailing fundamental freedoms of expression, speech and assembly.  

On September 28, the Federal Court unanimously upheld the Selangor Sharia law criminalizing publication of books deemed anti-Islamic as constitutional. The ruling paves the way for the case against ZI Publications and its director in a religious court for publishing lesbian activist and religious scholar Irshad Manji’s book Allah, Love and Liberty.  

On October 1, the Court of Appeal issued a ruling making rally organizers and participants targets of criminal sanctions under the Peaceful Assembly Act, which severely restricts spontaneous assemblies. 
On October 6, the Federal Court dismissed a legal challenge to the constitutionality of the Sedition Act by law professor Azmi Sharom, who will now have to stand trial for sedition for his comments in a newspaper article. At least 30 other people, including opposition politicians, have been charged under the Sedition Act, in the past year.

Malaysia is rated “partly free” in the Freedom House Freedom in the World 2015 report. Malaysia’s Civil Liberties score has declined steadily over the past three years due to harassment of civil society actors and the worsening conditions for members of the LGBT community.

 

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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