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Friday, 23 January 2015

Launch of Proham-BAC Human Rights Lectures 2015

Speech by Datuk Kuthubul Zaman Bukhari

Distinguished Guests, Eminent Speakers, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Today marks the first lecture in the 2015 series of Human Rights Public Lectures organized by PROHAM and Brickfields Asia College.

First off, let me profusely thank all those involved in the organization of the 2015 series especially Mr R. Rajasingam and Datuk Denison Jayasooria, hats off to a job well done.

Allow me also to congratulate and voice my appreciation to Brickfields Asia College for their notable foresight in educating the Malaysian youths on their rights and the importance of Human Rights compliance in the nation. In this day and current political climate, it is near impossible for Human Rights Organizations to gain access to Public Colleges and Universities in Malaysia. It is high time that these Public Colleges and Universities take cue from Brickfields Asia College and open their doors to educate all young Malaysians on issues of Human Rights concerning them.

I would also like to commend all in attendance today, especially the young ones. It has been said and it will be said a million times – you are the future of Malaysia. It warms my heart to know that there are so many of us who are concerned with Human Rights and its role in the building of our nation.  

On the 10th of December 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was and remains today, a landmark and remarkable instrument. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, it is the ‘International Magna Carta of all men everywhere’. The UN General Assembly proclaimed it as a ‘common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations’.

It catalogued 28 rights; both civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights. It begins with the beautiful recognition that:-
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

Henry J Steiner, a Professor at the Harvard Law School sums the accurate reflection of the respect and command which the Universal Declaration invokes:-

‘It proceeded to work its subversive path through many rooted doctrines of international law, forever changing the discourse of international relations on issues vital to human decency and peace. It underscored the need for international human-rights institutions that could exercise novel jurisdiction over states. It animated peoples in many countries to rethink their plight and to demand of their leaders an unprecedented recognition of their human rights. This remarkable Declaration has become the constitution of the universal human-rights movement.’

In recognition of the Declaration’s place of honour in the human-rights movement, 10th December annually is celebrated worldwide as Human Rights Day; a day where we work especially to ensure that all people can gain equality; dignity and freedom. Last year, PROHAM together with Brickfields Asia College commemorated Human Rights Day with a week-long celebration including a Public Forum on Malaysia’s role in the United Nation Security Council.

This year, the UN Human Rights Day theme is Human Rights 365 – the idea that EVERYDAY is Human Rights Day; everyday we should work towards realising the aspiration of the Declaration.

In light of that, PROHAM, together with Brickfields Asia College has initiated this 2015 series of Human Rights Public Lectures. Reflected in these lectures is the very same idea – that these rights are the inalienable entitlement of all people, everywhere and for all times, 365 days a year and that we must work towards a Malaysia where the Declaration is realised.

2014 was not the best of years for Malaysia; trial, tribulations, turmoil, tragedies and tumbling oil prices crippled the country. Looking forward, we at PROHAM strongly believe that Human Rights presents the best framework in which to build a better future for Malaysia. In setting our nation building agenda and future plans for development, we must underscore on the need to foster an inclusive, fair and just society based on the principles enshrined in the Declaration.

The 6 lectures scheduled will present the interactions of human rights across all aspects of our society – from the rights guaranteed by our Federal Consitution to rights against discrimination based on race, religion and gender. It will explore the contemporary challenges faced by Malaysia and Malaysian in the implementation of these rights while still sustaining growth of the nation. It will analyse the resolution of disputes which arises from these rights. It will, in the larger context, underpin the extensive role that human rights can and should play in the Malaysian society.

The speakers that we have lined up are some of the best in the field. Their experience as Human Rights activists and academics will ensure an open, rational and thought-provoking discussion on human rights issues in Malaysia.

Phillip Allot, Professor Emiritus of Public International Law at the University of Cambridge once wrote that ‘the idea of human rights, having been thought, it cannot be unthought’. It is my greatest wish that the 2015 series of Human Rights Public Lectures will mark an era where all of us, especially you, young Malaysians think human rights and think human rights 365 days a year.

Launch and 1st Lecture was held on Jan 23, 2015 at BAC, PJ

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Amnesty Int'l writes to Najib on Sedition Act

Prime Minister,

I am writing to express Amnesty International’s deep concern about the alarming use of the colonial era 1948 Sedition Act to stifle peaceful dissent in Malaysia, as part of a recent crackdown on freedom of expression in the country.

Our organization is particularly disappointed with your announcement of Nov 27, 2014, in which you said that Malaysia will retain and expand the Sedition Act.

We note that, in July 2012, you publicly committed to repealing the Act, and over the last two years have given numerous assurances to the Malaysian public and the international community that the Act would be repealed.

We urge you to reconsider your recent decision, and to take immediate steps to repeal the Sedition Act, release all those currently detained under its provisions and drop all charges brought under the Act.

Criminalising freedom of expression

Amnesty International is aware of at least 44 people who have been investigated, charged or convicted under the Sedition Act since 2013.
  • On Sept 5, former student activist Safwan Anang was sentenced to 10 months in prison by the Sessions Court in Kuala Lumpur.

    He had been charged with sedition under Article 4(1)(b) of the Sedition Act on May 29, 2014 after he gave a speech at a political rally on May 13, 2013, allegedly calling for a change in government in a way that was interpreted to be seditious.

    After his conviction he was released on bail pending an appeal. His conviction for sedition should be quashed.
  • On May 23, 2014, Adam Adli Abd Halim was sentenced to one year in prison by the Sessions Court in Kuala Lumpur, for remarks made at the same rally for calling on the people to take to the streets over the general election results.

    Should he be imprisoned to serve his sentence, Amnesty International would consider him a prisoner of conscience.
    His conviction for sedition should be quashed.
Amnesty International is aware of at least a further 16 people currently facing charges under the Sedition Act.
  • Student Ali Abdul Jalil was charged on Sep 8, 2014 under Article 4(1)(c) of the Sedition Act for posting "seditious" comments on Facebook on Jan 21, 2014 and again on Aug 18, 2014.

    He was released later that day after posting bail but was immediately rearrested and charged at Shah Alam Session Court with two further counts under Article 4(1)(c) of the Act.

    He was taken to Sungai Buloh prison, Selangor state, where he was held for 15 days.

    He was released again on bail on Sept 23; however, he was immediately rearrested and sent to Johor Baru Selatan prison, before being released on Sept 29, 2014.

    He is now facing three charges under Article 4(1)(c) of the Sedition Act.

    Amnesty International is additionally concerned by allegations that Ali was verbally and physically ill-treated by a prison officer in Sungai Buloh prison, who punched him in the stomach, slapped his face, and hit his leg with a baton and rubber pipe.

    Amnesty International is not aware of any independent investigation into the allegations of ill-treatment.

    Amnesty International calls for an investigation into his allegations of ill-treatment. The charges against him should be dropped.
  • Azmi Sharom, an academic from the University of Malaya, was charged with sedition on Sept 2, 2014 under Articles 4(1)(b) and 4(1)(c) for his alleged seditious remarks relating to the 2009 political crisis in the state of Perak published by an online news portal on Aug 14, 2014.

    Dr Azmi Sharom is currently challenging the constitutionality of the Sedition Act.

    If found guilty and imprisoned under these charges, Amnesty International would consider him a prisoner of conscience. The charges against Azmi should be dropped.
  • N Surendran, an opposition member of Parliament for Padang Serai and leading human rights lawyer, was charged under Article 4(1)(b) on Aug 19, 2014 for criticising the Court of Appeal ruling on March 7, 2014 which found Anwar Ibrahim guilty of "sodomy".

    He was charged again on Aug 28 under Article (4(1)(c) for his comments in a YouTube video in which he allegedly criticized the prime minister for mounting a political conspiracy against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

    If found guilty and imprisoned under these charges, Amnesty International would consider him a prisoner of conscience. The charges against Surendran should be dropped.
Investigations fostering a climate of fear

Amnesty International is also concerned about an increasing number of “investigations” under the Sedition Act. Among those investigated for so-called “seditious” actions are opposition politicians, journalists, and in one case, a teenager who did nothing more than click 'like' on a social media page entitled 'I Love Israel'.

Amnesty International is concerned that these investigations are an attempt to silence critical voices and dissent by creating a climate of fear.

The investigations and any further proceedings under the Sedition Act against these people should be immediately abandoned.
  • On Oct 2, 2014, a police complaint was filed against human rights activist Ambiga Sreenevasan for so-called "seditious" remarks made about Biro Tata Negara (BTN) or the National Civics Bureau at a conference in Kuala Lumpur.

    She is now being investigated under Article 4(1)(b) of the Sedition Act.
  • On Sept 26, 2014, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was questioned by the Ampang District Police, Selangor, as part of an investigation into allegedly "seditious" statements made in a speech at a political rally in Taman Melawati, Kuala Lumpur on March 25, 2011.
  • Malaysiakini journalist Susan Loone was arrested and questioned under the Sedition Act on Sept 4, 2014.

    She was arrested in the state of Penang and taken to the Northeast District Police Headquarters in Penang, where she was held for more than eight hours before being released.

    Her arrest came just days after she published an article on Sept 1, which allegedly defamed the police.

    The article was based on an interview with Phee Boon Poh, the chairperson of the Penang Voluntary Patrol Unit (PPS), in which he claimed he had been "treated like a criminal" following his arrest on Aug 31.

    Loone is currently on bail and waiting for the charging date. If found guilty of defaming the police and imprisoned solely for publishing this article, Amnesty International would consider her a prisoner of conscience.
Human rights analysis

Amnesty International has long expressed concerns about Malaysia’s Sedition Act, which has been used in the past to criminalize opposition activism and voices critical of the government.
  1. The law criminalises a wide array of acts, including those "with a tendency to excite disaffection against any ruler or government" or to "question any matter" protected by the federal constitution. Those found guilty can face three years in prison, be fined up to RM5,000  or both.

    The right to freedom of opinion and expression is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This right includes the "freedom to hold opinions without interference" and to "seek, receive and impart information and ideas through and media and regardless of frontiers".

    Although international human rights law does permit certain restrictions on freedom of expression, these restrictions must meet a strict three-part test: they must be provided by law; be limited to specific purposes such as national security, public order or respect of the rights or reputation of others; and be necessary and proportionate to the achievement of one of those permissible purposes.
  2.  Any restrictions imposed which do not meet all elements of this “three-part test” constitute violations of the right.
  3. Concerns regarding restrictions to the freedom of expression were expressed by fellow UN member states during the second cycle of Malaysia’s Universal Periodic Review in 2013.

    The states that have expressed concern or made recommendations to repeal the Sedition Act include: Australia, Czech Republic, France, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

    The restrictions on the right to freedom of expression imposed in Malaysia’s Sedition Act are phrased in an excessively broad and vague manner, potentially resulting in both an overreach of the law and a discriminatory application of the law.

    In fact the formulation "with a tendency to excite disaffection against any Ruler or government" already sets a very low threshold for the type of criticism of officials that is criminalised, whereas such criticism should not be criminalised at all.
  4. The Sedition Act, originally promulgated in order to supress criticism of British rule in what was then Malaya, does not comply with international human rights law and standards, and violates the rights to freedom of expression as guaranteed in Malaysia’s constitution.

We therefore urge you, as prime minister, to take steps towards:
  • Immediately repealing the 1948 Sedition Act;
  • Immediately quashing the convictions of individuals who have been sentenced under and unconditionally release all those who have been detained under the Sedition Act; furthermore, pending the repeal of the Sedition Act, ensuring that no one further is arrested, investigated, charged or imprisoned under its provisions;
  • Ensuring prompt independent, impartial and effective investigations into all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by police and bringing those responsible to justice in trials which meet international standards of fairness, which do not impose the death penalty, and ensure victims are granted reparations;
  • Reviewing and amending all other laws which restrict the right to freedom of expression, in strict compliance with international human rights law and standards; and
  • Ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights at the earliest opportunity, incorporating its provisions in domestic law, and implementing it in policy and practice.
We express our sincere hope and confidence that you will consider and support these recommendations.

Yours sincerely,

Salil Shetty
Secretary-general, Amnesty International


Wednesday, 14 January 2015


Human Rights Public Lecture Series 2015

Date                Jan 23, 2015 (Friday)

Time                3pm to 6pm

Venue              Brickfield Asia College, PJ Campus

The theme of Human Rights has been hotly debated in Malaysian society. Some say this is a western concept and not consistent with Asian values. They have also said that human rights is a tool of the develop world to supress the developing nations. However at the global level there is a greater call for nations to comply with a universal set of human rights laws and standards. The work of the United Nations is commendable in this respect.

The 2015 Human Rights Lecture series begins with a lecture on the Federal Constitution and its specific provisions on Fundamental Liberties. What are the rights protected for the citizens of Malaysia? Are there responsibilities too?

The Federal Constitution (FD) is the legal framework for Malaysia as formulated in 1957. Are these consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which was formulated in 1948? Can we compare and contrast the FD & UDHR? Are there areas where there is conflict and inconsistency between the Federal Constitution and the UDHR?

There is specific reference to the UDHR in the Suhakam Act 597 passed by the Malaysian Parliament in 1999.  What is the implications of this specific reference to the UDHR? Is there a legal obligation for Malaysia to comply with the UDHR especially in areas where there is consistency with the Federal Constitution? How then can we build a better Malaysia based on the core tenants of the FC and UDHR?

Speaker           Prof Shad Saleem Faruqi

Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr. Shad Saleem Faruqi is a Malaysian Professor of Law. He is one of the most sort of law lecturer in Malaysia and a public intellectual. His regular Star column entitled “Reflecting on the Law” has provided sound legal comments to many a public issue.

He is also a Proham Hon Member and author of the book entitled Document of Destiny, The Constitution of the Federation of Malaysia (Star, 2008). He has served Universiti Teknologi MARA in Shah Alam, Selangor in various capacities since 1971.

The Human Rights Lecture Series 2015 seeks to popularise human rights based on the UN Human Rights Day theme Human Rights 365. The series is jointly organised by PROHAM and Brickfields Asia College.

Admission is free but you need to register:

Monday, 12 January 2015


PROHAM together with Brickfields Asia College is hosting the 2015 

The topics chose are contemporary and relevant to Malaysian society. The presenters are public intellectuals who are from a human rights academic or activist background. We like to foster open, rational and responsible discussions. We believe this is the best way to dispel and challenge extreme thinking which polarises Malaysia society

This Human Rights Lecture Series seeks to popularise human rights based on the UN Human Rights Day theme HUMAN RIGHTS 365. We like young people especially those in local universities to have an opportunity to set the future agenda of the nation.

The lectures will reflect on contemporary challenges and chart a direction in building a better Malaysia based on the principles of the UDHR, Federal Constitution & Rukun Negara.

PROHAM believes that human rights are universal and is a better framework to foster an inclusive, fair and just society where all human beings, families and communities will regain dignity, justice and rights.

After the lecture of 45 minutes there will be an opportunity for the public to make comments, observations and raise questions. We like this series to enable us to think and reflect from a human rights basis on matters that affect our daily life in Malaysian society, Asean & the world at large.

The lecture series are moderated by Dato Saifuddin Abdullah (CEO, Global Movement of Moderators) & Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria (Proham Secretary General). 

Join us for a lively discussion in setting the agenda in nation building – Malaysia in 2015 and beyond built on the foundations of human rights for all and for all times.


January  23

Federal Constitution, UDHR & Human Rights
Prof Shad Saleem Faruqi

March 20
Race Relations, ICERD & Human Rights
Mr Jerald Joseph

May 22
Mediation & Human Rights
Datuk Kuthubul Zama

July 23
Gender & Human Rights
Ms Ivy Josiah

Sept 25
Sustainable Development & Human Rights
Dr Lin Mui Kiang

Nov 20
Religious Freedom & Human Rights
Mr Andrew Khoo

Time:               3 to 6pm

Venue:             2nd Floor, Brickfield Asia College (PJ Campus)

Admission:      Free but must register

For registration & further details contact: