KUALA LUMPUR: Putrajaya’s crackdown on forms of dissent has worsened with the use of even more laws to suppress public criticism, according to the Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The global rights group said reported cases of Malaysians being investigated and prosecuted using an array of laws over the public expression of dissent have markedly risen since the maiden edition of its report on the criminalisation of free speech here.

“The Malaysian authorities …continue to use the overly broad and vaguely worded criminal laws identified there to harass, arrest, and prosecute those critical of the government or of members of Malaysia’s royal families,” the report read.

Among the laws it said were being used against politicians, activists and everyday citizens were the Sedition Act 1948, the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA) and the Official Secrets Act 1972 (OSA).

It also noted that the government was increasingly clamping down on public protests and rallies, which the HRW said was a violation of the right to assembly.

The group highlighted, in particular, the growing frequency with which the law governing the use of the Internet was being employed against social media users and online news outlets, including restricting access to news portals.

“The use of the CMA to block access to websites reporting on serious allegations of corruption and other political issues violates not only the rights of those who posted the information, but also those seeking to access information on matters of public interest,” the report read.

It further said that the Sedition Act that Putrajaya had once pledge to repeal was now being used ever more frequently.

The HRW also cited the prosecution of PKR lawmaker Rafizi Ramli under the OSA for what it categorised as a whistleblowing act in public interest.

The Pandan MP is currently on trial for divulging parts of the Auditor-General’s report on 1Malaysia Development Bhd, which is classified under the OSA.

The report claimed that under Global Principles on National Security and the Right to Information (the Tshwane Principles), the document should not have been marked as a state secret.

“The continued classification of documents on a matter of significant public interest, with no demonstration that the disclosure of those documents would threaten national security or public order, is inconsistent with international standards on public access to information,” it read.

It added that the OSA did not consider intent or require the demonstration of harm from the act of exposing classified information.

The HRW then urged Putrajaya to reverse the erosion of rights and liberties in Malaysia by discontinuing all investigations and prosecutions for acts of public dissent.

It also called on the Malaysian government to repeal or amend laws cited above that were being used to suppress dissent.

The HRW report is currently in its second year. The previous edition contained similar criticisms and calls for remedial action.

By The Malay Mail Online