Manila and Human Rights

By Wong Chen

Some of you may not know that I have been an ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) member for almost a decade and that I have a side passion for human rights, other than economics and foreign policy.

As I write this article, I note that I have just returned from a human rights conference in Manila not more than 24 hours ago. I was there for two days as the Malaysian Chapter Chairman of APHR for the launch of our special report “Parliamentarians at Risk 2023”.

The report is a powerful compilation of accounts of reprisals and harassments against Members of Parliament in Southeast Asia in the year 2023. For this report, APHR focused on developments in five countries, namely Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Myanmar.

Of the five countries, Malaysia had improved the most in 2023 but APHR also noted with dismay, the continued existence of repressive laws such as the Sedition Act. Thus, our Unity Government has been urged by APHR to put more concerted efforts to abolish or at the very least, remove the more odious discretionary powers of this Act.

With so many political changes in Malaysia in the last five years, political uncertainty seems to be the only real constant. That being the case, this government must then use whatever precious time it has, to quickly abolish the decades of bad and oppressive laws. Failing which, these same laws may be used against us, yet again in the future.

APHR also noted with alarm, the rise of misogynistic comments in Parliament and on social media, targeting female Malaysian MPs. Again, APHR urged the government to take more concrete steps to stop gender-based harassments from occurring in the future, including taking stern legal actions against such perpetrators.

Unfortunately for the other four countries, their situations are much more dire than Malaysia’s.

In Myanmar, torn by civil war and controlled brutally by a military junta, APHR recorded that 74 legitimately elected MPs are currently being held in detention. Many more have gone into hiding. In the region, Myanmar MPs are by far most at risk of detention, torture and even death.

In Thailand and Cambodia, APHR noted that many MPs continue to face physical and judicial intimidations by the ruling governments. These practices are warping the concept of free and fair elections in these two countries. More importantly, these abuses prevent the political aspirations and will of the people from being properly fulfilled.

In the Philippines, APHR reported that many left leaning MPs have been “red-tagged” by the government as a form of intimidation. What followed after an MP was tagged was a surge of social media harassments. While the Philippines continue to have many other judicial harassment issues, we were also happy to note the release of former Senator Leila de Lima from prison. In our launch, she gave a particularly heartfelt and powerful speech.

I am aware that this article has departed somewhat from my normal focus on Malaysia and Subang. However, the topic of human rights is a universal matter and I hope this article has managed to spark your interests to find out more.

But let me end by returning to Malaysia and to wish all. “Selamat Hari Raya; Maaf, Zahir dan Batin”.