Democracy, human rights deteriorating in Malaysia since Covid-19 hit, says watchdog

KUALA LUMPUR : Democracy and human rights have declined in 80 countries, including Malaysia, since the Covid-19 pandemic hit earlier this year, with governments undermining systems that are meant to ensure their accountability, a recent report revealed.

Foreign workers wait to be screened for Covid-19 at Padang Polo, George Town May 14, 2020. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
Foreign workers wait to be screened for Covid-19 at Padang Polo, George Town May 14, 2020. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

United States-based human rights watchdog Freedom House reported that in such countries, out of the 192 surveyed, governments have responded to the pandemic by abusing their power, silencing their critics, and weakening or abolishing important institutions.null

Specific to Malaysia, the report titled “Democracy Under Lockdown” also said certain pandemic-related policies and practices targeted refugees — a group already fleeing persecution in their homeland.

Its local expert was quoted as saying that the Malaysian government “falsely promised no action on refugees for taking Covid tests, but later ended up arresting and detaining many to be deported”.

The report, in the same paragraph, also said that journalists in several countries have been silenced when attempting to expose the conditions faced by refugees during the pandemic.null

Freedom House also put Malaysia under the 39 countries where the media is only “partly free”.

In the report, Malaysia joined regional neighbours Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar, where democracy and human rights have deteriorated amid Covid-19.

Indonesia, Laos and Brunei were among the 111 countries where they remained unchanged.

Malawi is the sole country where democracy and human rights became stronger during that same period.

In recent months, operations by Malaysian police and Immigration Department officials to curb the entry of undocumented migrants have seen hundreds — including refugees — rounded up into squalid and overcrowded immigration detention centres, bringing about a spike in new Covid-19 cases.

Putrajaya and Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin have also continued to blame undocumented migrants for the third wave of the pandemic that the country currently faces, even in Sabah where a snap state election was recently held.

Furthermore, authorities also raided Al Jazeera’s office in Kuala Lumpur and investigated two of its journalists after the Qatar-based news outfit aired a documentary on Malaysia’s treatment of migrant workers and refugees during the movement control order (MCO).

The Freedom House report was commissioned in partnership with survey firm GQR, and ran from July 29 to August 15.

It is the result of a survey of 398 democracy and human rights experts within the network of Freedom House and fellow US-based group National Endowment for Democracy, combined with Freedom House’s own desk and field research between March and September this year.


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