The Human Truth Foundation

Human Rights and Freedom in Malaysia

By Vexen Crabtree 2019

#gender #malaysia #malaysia_gender #misogyny #women

[Country Profile Page]
StatusIndependent State
Social and Moral Index55th best
Life Expectancy74.88yrs (2017)2

Malaysia is amongst the worst places in the world at ensuring human rights and freedom, and it has severe cultural issues when it comes to tolerance and equality. Malaysia does worse than average for supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms3, supporting press freedom4, LGBT equality5, freethought6 and in speed of uptake of HR treaties7. And finally, it sits amongst the bottom 20 in the rate of gender bias (from 7 indicators)8, its success in fighting anti-semitic prejudice9, commentary in Human Rights Watch reports10 (amongst the lowest in Asia) and in its nominal commitment to Human Rights11 (one of the worst in Asia). Malaysia "continued its crackdown on critical voices and human rights defenders in 2017". Malaysia already persecutes non-Muslims and thoroughly rejects human rights, but in 2017 it continued to deepen its Islam-based intolerance and prejudice even further12, and in 2017 was considering giving Shariah courts more powers12. Anti-free-speech laws are used to persecute critics even for minor and indirect criticisms of government policy12. LGBT and women's rights are both rejected.

1. Malaysia's Human Rights, Equality & Tolerance

#equality #gender_equality #human_rights #morals #politics #prejudice #tolerance

Compared to Asia (2020)13
Pos.Lower is better
Avg Rank13
1Hong Kong24.3
43Myanmar (Burma)128.5
46Saudi Arabia134.5
Asia Avg99.9
Human Rights, Equality & Tolerance (2020)13
Pos.Lower is better
Avg Rank13
166Congo, DR126.7
169Equatorial Guinea128.4
171Myanmar (Burma)128.5
World Avg87.9

The best countries in the world at ensuring human rights, fostering equality and promoting tolerance, are Sweden, Norway and Denmark14. These countries are displaying the best traits that humanity has to offer. The worst countries are The Solomon Islands, Somalia and Tuvalu14.

The data sets used to calculate points for each country are statistics on commentary in Human Rights Watch reports, its nominal commitment to Human Rights, speed of uptake of HR treaties, supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms, supporting press freedom, eliminating modern slavery, opposing gender inequality, the rate of gender bias (from 7 indicators), the year from which women could participate in democracy, its success in fighting anti-semitic prejudice, LGBT equality and freethought. The regions with the best average results per country are Scandinavia, Baltic States and Europe14, whereas the worst are Melanesia, Micronesia and Australasia14.

For more, see:

Amnesty International's 2023-23 summary on human rights in Malaysia stated:

Authorities used repressive laws to restrict freedom of expression. Peaceful protests were prevented and protest organizers prosecuted. Punitive treatment of refugees, asylum seekers and migrant workers continued, including indefinite detention and refoulement to countries where they were at risk of serious human rights violations. Further custodial deaths were recorded, including in immigration detention centres, but no one was held to account. LGBTI people continued to face persecution.

"The State of the World's Human Rights 2022/23" by Amnesty International (2023)15

Malaysia´s government continued its crackdown on critical voices and human rights defenders in 2017. With corruption allegations casting a shadow over Prime Minister Najib Razak, the government strengthened abusive laws and facilitated a societal shift toward a more conservative and less tolerant approach to Islam. [...]

Police torture of suspects in custody, in some cases resulting in deaths, continues to be a serious problem, as does a lack of accountability for such offenses. [...] Over 150,000 refugees and asylum seekers, most of whom come from Burma [...] are unable to work, travel, or enroll in government schools.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)12

Malaysia uses anti-free-speech laws to persecute critics even for minor and indirect criticisms of government policy12.

2. Human Rights & Tolerance

2.1. Human Rights Watch Comments


Human Rights Watch Comments
Higher is better10
116=N. Korea-10
116=Congo, DR-10
116=Saudi Arabia-10
Asia Avg-5.0
World Avg-1.9
Malaysia is worst in the world regarding commentary in Human Rights Watch reports.

Human Rights Watch comments concentrate mostly on negative issues, however, they also make positive comments for those countries that engage in human rights defence around the world, or who make improvements at home. By adding up positive and negative comments (including double-points for negatives that involve large scales and crimes against humanity), the Social and Moral Index turns HRW commentary into quantified values. Some countries may be unfairly penalized because HRW have not examined them, and, some countries "get away" with abuses if they manage to hide it, or if it goes unnoticed - a negative point has been given for those countries in which HRW specifically state that access to investigators has been barred. The points were limited to a minimum of -10 because there are some points at which things are so bad, with abuses affecting so many, it is difficult to be more specific about the depths of the issues.

2.2. Nominal Commitment to HR


Nominal Commitment to HR
Higher is better11
2=Costa Rica23
189Marshall Islands4
190=Myanmar (Burma)4
Asia Avg12.7
World Avg15.1
In terms of its nominal commitment to Human Rights, Malaysia comes 5th-worst in the world.

There are many international agreements on human rights, and, many mechanisms by which countries can be brought to account for their actions. Together, these have been the biggest historical movement in the fight against oppression and inhumanity. Or, putting it another way: these are rejected mostly by those who wish to oppress inhumanely. None of them are perfect and many people object to various components and wordings, but, no-one has come up with, and enforced, better methods of controlling the occasional desires that states and peoples have of causing angst for other states and peoples in a violent, unjust or inhumane way. Points are awarded for the number of human rights agreements ratified by the country, plus the acceptance of the petition mechanisms for disputes. The maximum possible score in 2009 was 24.

2.3. HR Treaties Lag

#human_rights #international_law #micronesia #politics #small_islands

HR Treaties Lag
Lower is better7
Avg Yrs/Treaty7
171St Lucia14.11
175N. Korea14.52
Asia Avg10.97
World Avg10.02
Malaysia comes 174th in the world in terms of speed of uptake of HR treaties.

Human Rights (HR) Treaties Lag is a count of how long it took each country to sign each of 11 key HR treaties. From the date of the first signatory of each treaty, all other countries have one point added to their score for each day they delayed in signing. Results are presented as average time in years to sign each one. The lower a country's score, the more enthusiastically it has taken on international Human Rights Treaties - which are, of course, minimal standards of good governance. The slowest are the countries of Micronesia, Melanesia, Australasia and Polynesia all lagged by over 12 years per treaty. The best regions are The Americas, Scandinavia and the Mediterranean.

For more, see:

2.4. Personal, Civil & Economic Freedom

#freedom #politics

Personal, Civil & Economic Freedom
Lower is better3
1Hong Kong1
3New Zealand3
Asia Avg94.6
World Avg79.7
Regarding supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms, Malaysia comes 115th in the world.

The Human Freedom Index published by the Fraser Institute is...

... a broad measure of human freedom, understood as the absence of coercive constraint. It uses 79 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom in the following areas: Rule of Law, Security and Safety, Movement, Religion, Association, Assembly, and Civil Society, Expression, Relationships, Size of Government, Legal System and Property Rights, Access to Sound Money, Freedom to Trade Internationally, Regulation of Credit, Labor, and Business. [...]

The highest levels of freedom are in Western Europe, Northern Europe, and North America (Canada and the United States. The lowest levels are in the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. [...]

Countries in the top quartile of freedom enjoy a significant higher per capita income ($37,147) [compared with] the least-free quartile [at] $8,700). The HFI finds a strong correlation between human freedom and democracy.

"The Human Freedom Index" by The Fraser Institute (2016)16

2.5. Press Freedom

#democracy #freedom #Freedom_of_Speech #Good_Governance #mass_media #politics #UK

Press Freedom
Lower is better4
141Congo, DR4166
Asia Avg4378
World Avg3249
Regarding supporting press freedom, Malaysia ranks 144th in the world.

The freedom to investigate, publish information, and have access to others' opinion is a fundamental part of today's information-driven world, and is linked with Freedom of Speech and Good Governance. Scores on the Press Freedom Index are calculated according to indicators including pluralism - the degree to which opinions are represented in the media, media independence of authorities, self-censorship, legislation, transparency and the infrastructure that supports news and information, and, the level of violence against journalists which includes lengths of imprisonments. The index "does not take direct account of the kind of political system but it is clear that democracies provide better protection for the freedom to produce and circulate accurate news and information than countries where human rights are flouted". The rankings are used as one of the datasets of the Social and Moral Development Index17

It must be noted that press freedom is not an indicator of press quality and the press itself can be abusive; the UK suffers in particular from a popular brand of nasty reporting that infuses several of its newspapers who are particularly prone to running destructive and often untrue campaigns against victims. The Press Freedom Index notes that "the index should in no way be taken as an indicator of the quality of the media in the countries concerned".

2.6. Slavery

#burundi #eritrea #france #human_rights #indonesia #slavery

Lower is better
% Victims18
Asia Avg0.79
World Avg0.65
Malaysia ranks 124th in the world in terms of eliminating modern slavery.

The taking of slaves has been an unwholesome feature of Human cultures since prehistory19. Private households and national endeavours have frequently been augmented with the use of slaves. The Egyptian and Roman empires both thrived on them for both purposes. Aside from labourers they are often abused sexually by their owners and their owners' friends20. The era of colonialism and the beginnings of globalisation changed nothing: the imprisonment and forced movements of labour continued to destroy many lives except that new justifications were invented based on Christian doctrine and the effort to convert non-Christians. By 1786 over 12 million slaves had been extracted from Africa and sent to colonial labour camps, with a truly atrocious condition of life21. But they were not the only ones to blame; in Africa internal nations such as the Asantes sold and bought tens of thousands of slaves22.

The abolition of the slave trade was a long and slow process. Until a relatively modern time, even philosophers, religious leaders and those concerned with ethics justified, or ignored, the problem of slavery23. The first abolitionists were always the slaves themselves. Their protests and rebellions caused the industry to become too expensive to continue. After that, it was the economic costs of maintain slave colonies that led the British to reject and then oppose the slave trade globally. Finally, the enlightenment-era thinkers of France encouraged moral and ethical thinking including the declaration of the inherent value of human life and human dignity24. A long-overdue wave of compassionate and conscientious movements swept across the West, eliminating public support for slavery, until the industries and churches that supported it had no choice but to back down.

'Modern slavery' includes forced labour (often of the under-age), debt bondage (especially generational), sexual slavery, chattel slavery and other forms of abuse, some of which can be surprisingly difficult to detect, but often target those fleeing from warzones and the vulnerable.25. Some industries (diamond, clothing, coal) from some countries (Burundi26, Eritrea26, Indonesia27) are a particular concern. The Walk Free Foundation, say that in 2016, 40.3 million people were living in modern slavery28.

For more, see:

No Malaysians have been held responsible for their role in the deaths of over 100 ethnic Rohingya trafficking victims whose bodies were found in 2015 in remote jungle detention camps on the Thai-Malaysian border. The 12 policemen initially charged in the case were all exonerated and released in March 2017.

The Malaysian government has failed to effectively implement amendments passed in 2014 to Malaysia´s 2007 anti-trafficking law, in particular by taking the necessary administrative steps to provide assistance and work authorization to all trafficking victims who desire it, while ensuring their freedom of movement.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)12

3. Gender Equality

The 1950s saw a late rush of 43 countries, including Malaysia and many developing nations, move to cease preventing women from voting. Malaysia is on the way towards ending gender inequality but women are still in an unfavourable position much of the time.

Malaysia took a step forward in the protection of women's rights in 2017 by amending its domestic violence law to provide better protection for victims of domestic violence. It also passed a law expanding criminal sanctions for sex offenses against children. Efforts to pass a law to end child marriage were defeated, however, and Malaysia is one of the few countries that does not collect data on the number of children marrying. Marital rape is not a crime in Malaysia.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)12


3.1. Gender Inequality

#gender #gender_equality #human_rights #misogyny #women

Gender Inequality
Lower is better
63Costa Rica0.31
Asia Avg0.36
World Avg0.36
Malaysia comes 59th in the world when it comes to opposing gender inequality.

The UN Human Development Reports include statistics on gender equality which take into account things like maternal mortality, access to political power (seats in parliament) and differences between male and female education rates. Gender inequality is not a necessary part of early human development. Although a separation of roles is almost universal due to different strengths between the genders, this does not have to mean that women are subdued, and, such patriarchalism is not universal in ancient history. Those cultures and peoples who shed, or never developed, the idea that mankind ought to dominate womankind, are better cultures and peoples than those who, even today, cling violently to those mores.

For more, see:

3.2. Gender Biases

#gender #gender_equality #prejudice #women

Gender Biases
Lower is better
2New Zealand34.431
Asia Avg94.24
World Avg83.93
Malaysia ranks 7th-worst in the world when it comes to the rate of gender bias (from 7 indicators).

The Gender Social Norms Index (GSNI) looks at gender biases across seven criteria; the % given here is for the total people who are biased across any of those criteria. By subtracting the value from 100%, you can see that those who do well on this index, you are seeing a count of those who do not appear to be biased against women in any of the criteria, and so, doing well on this index is a very positive sign for any country.

The data was included in UN (2022) with full results in Annex table AS6.7.1; their data stems for ranges between 2005 and 2022, depending on the country in question.

3.3. Year Women Can Vote

#christianity #gender_equality #human_rights #politics #women

Year Women Can Vote
Lower is better
1New Zealand1893
Asia Avg1907
World Avg1930
Malaysia ranks 115th in the world with regard to the year from which women could participate in democracy.

Women now have equal rights in the vast majority of countries across the world. Although academic literature oftens talks of when a country "grants women the right to vote", this enforces a backwards way of thinking. Women always had the right to vote, however, they were frequently denied that right. The opposition to women's ability to vote in equality with man was most consistently and powerfully opposed by the Catholic Church, other Christian organisations, Islamic authorities and some other religious and secular traditionalists.

For more, see:

4. Prejudice

4.1. Anti-Semite Opinions

#antisemitism #christianity #germany #indonesia #israel #jordan #judaism #laos #morocco #netherlands #pakistan #philippines #religion #religious_violence #saudi_arabia #spain #sweden #turkey #UK #vietnam

Anti-Semite Opinions
Lower is better
81=S. Korea53
87Saudi Arabia74
Asia Avg48.2
World Avg36.8
Malaysia ranks 18th-worst in the world regarding its success in fighting anti-semitic prejudice.

Anti-Semitism is the world given to irrational racism against Jews. It is not the same as anti-Judaism (involving arguments against the religion) nor the same as anti-Zionism (arguments against Israel). In history, influential Christian theologians concocted the arguments against Jews that led, very early on, to widespread Christian action against Jews33,34,35,36. As Christianity rose to power in the West and presided over the Dark Ages, there were widespread violent outbursts against Jews of the most persistent and horrible kind. The Crusades were frequently aimed at them and the feared Spanish Inquisition paid Jews particular attention. The horror of the holocaust instigated by German Nazis in the 1940s was followed (finally) by the era of European human rights and a movement against racism in general.

The places that are the least anti-Semitical are a few countries of south-east Asia (Laos, the Philippines and Vietnam) and some of the secular liberal democracies of Europe (Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK). The worst countries for antisemitism are Islamic states of the Middle East37, which are undergoing their own Dark Age. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey see the most oppressive and violent actions towards Jews38,39. Jews in Muslim countries face a host of restrictions and "ceaseless humiliation and regular pogroms"40. In 2004 the European Union Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia reported on violent anti-Jew crimes in the EU and found that that largest group of perpetrators were young Muslim males41.

For more, see:

4.2. LGBT Equality

#equality #homosexuality #human_rights #ICCPR #intolerance #sexuality #tolerance

Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people is pervasive in Malaysia. Numerous laws and regulations attributed to Sharia prohibiting a “man posing as a woman,” sexual relations between women, and sexual relations between men effectively criminalize LGBT people.

Violence against LGBT people remains a serious concern, highlighted by the murder of a transgender woman Sameera Krishnan in February, and the rape and murder of 18-year-old T. Nhaveen, a young man whose assailants taunted him with anti-LGBT slurs, in June. In a positive development, the Health Ministry, in response to strident criticism from activists and the general public, reframed the terms of a youth video competition, removing language and criteria that stigmatized LGBT identities in favor of language that appears to affirm them.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)12

LGBT Equality
Higher is better
Asia Avg-02.1
World Avg12.6
Malaysia ranks 153rd in the world in terms of LGBT equality.

Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) folk is rife across the world. Legal restrictions co-exist alongside social stigmatisation and physical violence42. LGBT tolerance and equal rights have been fought for country-by-country across the world, often against tightly entrenched cultural and religious opposition. Adult consensual sexual activity is a Human Right, protected by privacy laws43. Despite this, homosexual activity is outlawed in around 80 countries42. The Social & Moral LGBT Equality Index was created to compare countries and regions, granting points to each country for a variety of factors including how long gay sex has been criminalized and the extent of LGBT legal rights. Graded negative points are given for criminality of homosexuality, unequal ages of consent, legal punishments and for not signing international accords on LGBT tolerance. The signs in many developed countries are positive, and things are gradually improving. Europe is by far the least prejudiced region (Scandinavia in particular being exemplary). The Middle East and then Africa are the least morally developed, where cultural bias goes hand-in-hand with state intolerance, all too often including physical violence.

For more, see:

4.3. Freedom of Thought

#europe #freedom_of_belief #freethought #human_rights #netherlands #religion #religious_tolerance #secularism #the_enlightenment

Freedom of Thought
Lower is better
Asia Avg3.7
World Avg3.0
In terms of freethought, Malaysia is 21st-worst in the world.

Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Belief are upheld in Article 18 the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights44. It affirms that it is a basic human right that all people are free to change their beliefs and religion as they wish45. No countries voted against this (although eight abstained). This right was first recognized clearly in the policies of religious toleration of the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe in the post-enlightenment era46 of the 19th century. In democratic countries, freedom of belief and religion is now taken for granted47. In 2016 a study found that over 180 countries in the world had come to guarantee freedom of religion and belief48. The best countries at doing so are Taiwan, Belgium and The Netherlands6,49 and the worst: Afghanistan, N. Korea, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia6,50.

Long-term studies have shown that religious violence and persecution both decrease in cultures where religious freedom is guaranteed51. Despite this, there still are many who are strongly against freedom of belief45, including entire cultures and many individual communities of religious believers. Their alternative is that you are not free to believe what you want and they often state that you cannot change religion without being punished (often including the death penalty): this is bemoaned as one of the most dangerous elements of religion52 and "the denial of religious freedoms is inevitably intertwined with the denial of other freedoms"53 and the solution is, everywhere, to allow religious freedom and the freedom of belief.

For more, see:

5. Freedom of Belief and Religion

#atheism #christianity #islam #malaysia #religion_in_malaysia

Malaysia has a particular problem when it comes to human rights surrounding freedom of belief, with non-Muslims facing persecution and legal restrictions impacting on many aspects of their personal lives12, and deconversion from Islam is difficult, impossible, and illegal54.

In 2017, "a government minister called for 'atheists' to be tracked down"12.

Book CoverA few years ago, Lina Joy, a Malaysian who had been born a Muslim, started proceedings in civil court to obtain the right to marry her Christian fiancé and have children. She maintained that she had converted from Islam to Christianity and, consequently, did not need the permission of the Islamic sharia courts that typically governed such matters for Muslims in Malaysia. The lower civil courts ruled against her, and ultimately she brought the case to the nation's highest court, which - in May 2007 - rejected her appeal. Thus, her official identity card still designates her religion as Muslim. The high court ruled that one cannot, at one's whim and fancy, renounce a religion. Lina Joy continues to endure many death threats from Muslims who consider her an apostate and she lives in hiding. Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, a Muslim human rights lawyer who helped with her case, has received one death threat that was widely circulated by e-mail. This e-mail featured his picture, with the heading "Wanted Dead" and the text "This is the face of the traitorous lawyer to Islam who supports the Lina Joy apostasy case."

"Bad Faith: The Danger of Religious Extremism" by Neil J. Kressel (2007)54

The International Humanist and Ethical Union produced a report in 2012 entitled "Freedom of Thought" (2012)55, in which they document bias and prejudice at the national level that is based on religion, belief and/or lack of belief. Their entry for Malaysia states:

The constitution protects freedom of religion or belief. However, portions of the constitution as well as other laws and policies restrict this freedom. Prosecutions for blasphemy usually target those who offend Islam, but an insult to any religion can give rise to prosecution. Every Malaysian citizen over the age of 12 must carry an identification card, a 'MyKad', which must state the bearer's religion. This requirement alone appears to breach the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPT) under which States have no right to demand to know the religion of any of their citizens; a point reinforced by Section 3 of General Comment 22 of the Human Rights Committee: 'In accordance with articles 18.2 and 17, no one can be compelled to reveal his thoughts or adherence to a religion or belief.' But, in addition, the government has a history of limiting how citizens can identify their religion.56

The constitution defines ethnic Malays as Muslim. Authorities at the state level administer Sharia laws through Islamic courts and have jurisdiction over all Muslims. Sharia laws and the degree of their enforcement vary by state. State governments impose Sharia law on Muslims in some cultural and social matters but generally do not interfere with the religious practices of non-Muslim communities; however, debates continued regarding incorporating elements of Sharia law, such as khalwat (being in close physical proximity with an unrelated member of the opposite sex), into secular civil and criminal law. Although specific punishments for violation of khalwat vary from state to state, it is typically punishable by some combination of imprisonment up to two years, a fine of RM 3,000 ($940)57, or several strokes of the cane.

Amending the penal code is the exclusive prerogative of the federal government. Despite contradicting federal law, the state governments of Kelantan and Terengganu passed laws in 1993 and 2002, respectively, making apostasy a capital offense. Apostasy is defined as the conversion from Islam to another faith. No one has been convicted under these laws and, according to a 1993 statement by the Attorney General, the laws cannot be enforced absent a constitutional amendment. Nationally, Muslims who seek to convert to another religion must first obtain approval from a Sharia court to declare themselves "apostates." This effectively prohibits the conversion of Muslims, since Sharia courts seldom grant such requests and can impose penalties (such as enforced "rehabilitation") on apostates. Additionally, Articles 295-298A of the penal code allow up to three years in prison and a US $1,000 fine penalties for those who "commit offenses against religion", which covers "blasphemous" statements, usually against Islam.

"Freedom of Thought" by IHEU (2012)55