In the first century AD, two far-flung but related events helped stimulate Malaysia's emergence in international trade in the ancient world. At that time, India had two principal sources of gold and other metals: the Roman Empire and China. The overland route from China was cut by marauding Huns, and at about the same time, the Roman Emperor Vespasian cut off shipments of gold to India. As a result, India sent large and seaworthy ships, with crews reported to have numbered in the hundreds, to Southeast Asia, including the Malayan Peninsula, to seek alternative sources. In the centuries that followed, rich Malaysian tin deposits assumed great significance in Indian Ocean trade, and the region prospered. As maritime trade among Middle Eastern, Indian, and Chinese ports flourished, the peninsula benefited from its location as well as from development of its diverse resources, including tropical woods and spices. Malay ships became prominent in that trade, and Malay ports served as transshipment centers. Indian trade brought Indian culture, economy, religion, and politics, with historic results for what is now Malaysia.
The early Buddhist Malay kingdom of Srivijaya, based at what is now Palembang, Sumatra, dominated much of the Malay Peninsula from the 9th to the 13th centuries AD. The powerful Hindu kingdom of Majapahit, based on Java, gained control of the Malay Peninsula in the 14th century. Conversion of the Malays to Islam, beginning in the early 14th century, accelerated with the rise of the state of Malacca under the rule of a Muslim prince in the 15th century. Malacca was a major regional entrepot, where Chinese, Arab, Malay, and Indian merchants traded precious goods. Drawn by this rich trade, a Portuguese fleet conquered Malacca in 1511, marking the beginning of European expansion in Southeast Asia. The Dutch ousted the Portuguese from Malacca in 1641 and, in 1795, were themselves replaced by the British, who had occupied Penang in 1786.
In 1826, the British settlements of Malacca, Penang, and Singapore were combined to form the Colony of the Straits Settlements. From these strong points, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the British established protectorates over the Malay sultanates on the peninsula. Four of these states were consolidated in 1895 as the Federated Malay States.
During British control, a well-ordered system of public administration was established, public services were extended, and largescale rubber and tin production was developed. This control was interrupted by the Japanese invasion and occupation from 1942 to 1945 during World War II.
Popular sentiment for independence swelled during and after the war and, in 1957, the Federation of Malaysia, established from the British-ruled territories of Peninsula Malaysia in 1948, negotiated independence from the United Kingdom under the leadership of Tunku Abdul Rahman, who became the first prime minister. The British colonies of Singapore, Sarawak, and Sabah (called North Borneo) joined the Federation to form Malaysia on September 16, 1963.
Singapore withdrew from the Federation on August 9, 1965, and became an independent republic. Neighboring Indonesia objected to the formation of Malaysia and pursued a program of economic, political, diplomatic, and military "confrontation" against the new country, which ended only after the fall of Indonesia's President Sukarno in 1966.
Following World War II, local communists, nearly all Chinese, launched a long, bitter insurgency, prompting the imposition of a state of emergency in 1948 (later lifted in 1960). Small bands of guerrillas remained in bases along the rugged border with southern Thailand, occasionally entering northern Malaysia. These guerrillas finally signed a peace accord with the Malaysian Government in December 1989. A separate smallscale communist insurgency that began in the mid-1960s in Sarawak also ended with the signing of a peace accord in October 1990.
Today, Malaysia is a federation of 13 states and 3 federal territories with a parliamentary system of government based on periodic multiparty elections in which the ruling National Front coalition has held power for more than 40 years. Opposition parties actively contest elections, but face significant obstacles in competing with the long-entrenched ruling coalition. However, in the November 1999 elections, opposition parties won roughly 25 percent of the seats in the Federal Parliament, and an opposition party also retained control of one state government and gained control of another. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, government action, constitutional amendments, legislation, and other factors undermine judicial independence and strengthen executive influence over the judiciary. The impartiality of the judiciary appeared to improve during the year 2001, as some high-profile decisions were made and controversial decisions and politically-charged cases from previous years were reversed or dropped according to the legal merits of the case.
Malaysia is an advanced developing country with a population of approximately 23 million, an estimated per capita gross domestic product of $3,850, and an unemployment rate of roughly 3 percent. Following nearly a decade of strong economic growth averaging over 8 percent annually, it was hit hard by the 1997 regional financial and economic crisis. After contracting by 7.5 percent in 1998, the economy began to recover, and expanded 6.1 percent in 1999 and 8.3 percent in 2000. In response to falling demand in export markets, economic growth slowed during the year 2001. Analysts expect the economy to grow from 1 to 3 percent during the year 2001. The Government has continued with its simulative fiscal and monetary policies. The Government takes an active role in the development of the export-oriented economy. Manufacturing accounts for 31.1 percent of GDP, services for 50.7 percent, agriculture for 8.4 percent, construction for 3.3 percent, and mining for 6.5 percent. Principal manufactured products include semiconductors, consumer electronics, electrical products, textiles, and apparel. Oil and gas, palm oil, natural rubber, cocoa, and tropical timber are also significant contributors to the economy.
The Government of Malaysia has taken an active role in guiding the nation's economic development. Malaysia's New Economic Policy (NEP), first established in 1971, sought to eradicate poverty and end the identification of economic function with ethnicity. In particular, it was designed to enhance the economic standing of ethnic Malays and other indigenous peoples (collectively known as "bumiputeras" in Bahasa Malaysia). Rapid growth through the mid-1990s made it possible to expand the share of the economy for bumiputeras without reducing the economic attainment of other groups. One controversial NEP goal was to alter the pattern of ownership of corporate equity in Malaysia, with the government providing funds to purchase foreign-owned shareholdings on behalf of the bumiputera population. In June 1991, after the NEP expired, the government unveiled its National Development Policy, which contained many of the NEP's goals, although without specific equity targets and timetables. In April 2001, the government released a new plan, the "National Vision Policy," to guide development over the period 2001-10. The National Vision Policy targets education for budget increases and seeks to refocus the economy toward higher-technology production.
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the Government placed some restrictions on this right. Islam is the official religion; however, the practice of Islamic beliefs other than Sunni Islam was restricted significantly. Religious minorities, which include large Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, and Sikh communities, generally worshipped freely, although with some restrictions. Government funds support an Islamic religious establishment, and it is official policy to "infuse Islamic values" into the administration of the country. The Government imposes Islamic religious law (Shari’a) on Muslims only in some matters and it does not impose Shari’a beyond the Muslim community. Adherence to Islam is considered intrinsic to Malay ethnic identity and therefore Islamic religious laws administered by state authorities through Islamic courts bind all ethnic Malays (and other Muslims) in some matters. The Government also grants funds to non-Islamic religions, but to a more limited degree.
The Registrar of Societies, under the Ministry of Home Affairs, registers religious organizations. Registration enables organizations to receive government grants and other benefits. In May 2001, the Government decided not to approve the Falun Gong Preparatory Committee's application to register as a legal organization, but this did not effect the Falun Gong's ability to carry out activities in public.
Under the law and in practice, it is very difficult for Muslims to change religions. In April 2001, a High Court judge rejected the application of a Malay woman who argued that she converted to Christianity, and requested that the term "Islam" be removed from her identity card. The judge ruled that an ethnic Malay is defined by the Federal Constitution as a "person who professes the religion of Islam." The judge also reaffirmed the March 1999 High Court ruling and stated that only an Islamic court has jurisdiction to rule on the woman's supposed renunciation of Islam and conversion to Christianity. The ruling makes conversion of Muslims nearly impossible in practice.
In 2000 the State of Perlis enacted a law that stipulated Muslims found guilty of apostasy by a Shari'a court are to be sent to "faith rehabilitation centers." Since its enactment, there have been no convictions under this law. Such a bill also was proposed at the highest level of the Government. Leaders of PAS said that the penalty for apostasy should be death.
The Government generally respected non-Muslims' right of worship; however, state governments carefully controlled the building of non-Muslim places of worship and the allocation of land for non-Muslim cemeteries. Approvals for such permits sometimes were granted very slowly. In 1999 the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Sikhism (MCCBCHS) protested the planned implementation of Ministry of Housing and local government guidelines governing non-Muslim places of worship. The MCCBCHS specifically complained that the guidelines required an area to have at least 2,000 to 5,000 adherents of a particular non-Muslim faith for a non-Muslim place of worship to be approved. No such requirement exists for Muslim places of worship. In August 2000, these minimum guidelines were relaxed somewhat. The group also argued that, under the guidelines, the Islamic Council of the state in question must approve the establishment of all non-Muslim places of worship. In addition, after years of complaints by non-Islamic religious organizations about the need for Islamic authorities in each state to approve construction of non-Islamic religious institutions, the Minister of Housing and Local Government announced that such approval no longer would be required. However, it was unclear whether this change generally would be reflected in state policies and local decisions. For example, in Shah Alam, the Selangor state authorities continued to block construction of a Catholic church.
During the controversy over the proposed new guidelines on non-Muslim places of worship, the MCCBCHS and the Federal Territory Counseling and Service Center separately urged the Prime Minister to create a national "inter-religious" council, although no such council was created. During the year, Suhakam initiated an inter-religious dialog to improve understanding among different religious groups. Leaders of a number of different faiths, including Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism participated.
The proselytizing of Muslims by members of other religions is prohibited strictly; persons proselytizing non-Muslims face no obstacles. The Government discouraged, and in practical terms forbade, the circulation in the peninsular region of the country Malay-language translations of the Bible and distribution of Christian tapes and printed materials in Malay. However, Malay-language Christian materials can be found. Some states have laws that prohibit the use of Malay-language religious terms by Christians, but the authorities did not always enforce them actively. The distribution of Malay-language Christian materials faced few restrictions in the eastern part of the country. Most visas for foreign Christian clergy were approved. Beginning in March 2000, non-Muslim representatives sat on the immigration committee that approves such visa requests.
The Government opposes what it considers to be deviant interpretations of Islam, maintaining that the "deviant" groups’ extreme views endanger national security. In the past, the Government imposed restrictions on certain Islamic groups, primarily the small number of Shi'a. The Government continues to monitor the activities of the Shi'a minority, including those of 55 religious groups believed to be involved in deviant Islamic teachings. In November 2000, the Shari’a high court in the State of Kelantan sentenced four persons to 3 years in jail for disregarding a lower court order to "recant" their allegedly heretical Islamic beliefs and to "return to the true teachings of Islam." The High Court rejected their argument that Shari’a law had no jurisdiction over them because they had ceased to be Muslims. In August the Court of Appeals reaffirmed the High Court ruling. The four individuals subsequently have filed an appeal with the Federal Court.
The Government periodically detains members of what it considers Islamic deviant sects without trial or charge under the ISA. After release such detainees are subject to restrictions on their movement and residence. For example, in July 2000, the Government used the ISA to detain at least 33 members of the Al-Ma’unah sect, who reportedly were not suspected of involvement in an early July arms theft incident. Fifteen members remained under ISA detention at year’s end.
The Government generally restricted remarks or publications that might incite racial or religious disharmony. This included some statements and publications critical of particular religions, especially Islam. The Government also restricted the content of sermons at mosques. The Government periodically warned against those who delivered sermons in mosques for "political ends" and, occasionally, state governments banned certain Muslim clergymen from delivering sermons at mosques. In November Kedah Chief Minister Syed Razak Zain announced that the Government planned to install voice recording equipment in all mosques in the northern State of Kedah in order to monitor immans who were suspected of straying from their religious texts and criticizing the Government. In October 2000, the Chief Minister of Kelantan, who is also the spiritual adviser for the opposition Islamic party PAS, was banned from speaking at a mosque in Selangor. The Chief Minister spoke despite the ban and vowed that he would continue to speak wherever he was invited. He was warned of prosecution if he defied the ban again. The mosque officers who allegedly allowed him to speak were not prosecuted, but they were required to attend a counseling session.
For Muslim children, religious education according to a government-approved curriculum is compulsory. There were no restrictions on home instruction.
In 2000 the Government announced that all Muslim civil servants must attend religious classes, but only classes in Islam would be held. In addition, only teachers approved by the Government would be employed to conduct these classes. During the year, the Government implemented this rule for civil servants.
In family and religious matters, all Muslims are subject to Shari'a law. In 2001 the PAS-led government of Terengganu State passed the Shari'a Criminal Offence Bill. The bill sought to impose Islamic law against theft, robbery, illicit sex, drinking alcohol, and the renunciation of Islam. However, a suit arguing that state governments have no authority to make criminal law was filed in the Federal Court to block the implementation of a similar law in the neighboring State of Kelantan. Both cases were pending at year's end. According to some women's rights activists, women were subject to discriminatory interpretations of Shari'a law and inconsistent application of the law from state to state.
The Government has a comprehensive system of preferences for ethnic Malays and members of a few other groups known collectively as "bumiputras," most of whom are Muslim.
INCIDENCE OF CRIME
The crime rate in Malaysia is low compared to industrialized countries. An analysis was done using INTERPOL data for Malaysia. For purpose of comparison, data were drawn for the seven offenses used to compute the United States FBI's index of crime. Index offenses include murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. The combined total of these offenses constitutes the Index used for trend calculation purposes. Malaysia will be compared with Japan (country with a low crime rate) and USA (country with a high crime rate). According to the INTERPOL data, for murder, the rate in 2000 was 2.48 per 100,000 population for Malaysia, 1.10 for Japan, and 5.51 for USA. For rape, the rate in 2000 was 5.19 for Malaysia, compared with 1.78 for Japan and 32.05 for USA (Noting that the data for Malaysia were taken from its 2000 report of that data to the UN - rape data were omitted from report to INTERPOL). For robbery, the rate in 2000 was 22.99 for Malaysia, 4.08 for Japan, and 144.92 for USA. For aggravated assault, the rate in 2000 was 22.99 for Malaysia, 23.78 for Japan, and 323.62 for USA. For burglary, the rate in 2000 was 148.24 for Malaysia, 233.60 for Japan, and 728.42 for USA. The rate of larceny for 2000 was 251.22 for Malaysia, 1401.26 for Japan, and 2475.27 for USA. The rate for motor vehicle theft in 2000 was 256.18 for Malaysia, compared with 44.28 for Japan and 414.17 for USA. The rate for all index offenses combined was 752.49 for Malaysia, compared with 1709.88 for Japan and 4123.97 for USA.
TRENDS IN CRIME
Between 1995 and 2000, according to INTERPOL data, the rate of murder increased from 1.97 to 2.48 per 100,000 population, an increase of 25.9%. The rate for rape increased from 5.12 to 5.19, an increase of 1.4%. The rate of robbery increased from 30.1 to 66.19, an increase of 119.9%. The rate for aggravated assault increased from 15.48 to 22.99, an increase of 48.5%. The rate for burglary increased from 109.96 to 148.24, an increase of 34.8%. The rate of larceny increased from 154.58 to 251.22, an increase of 62.5%. The rate of motor vehicle theft increased from 13.57 to 256.18, an increase of 1787.85. The rate of total index offenses increased from 330.78 to 752.49, an increase of 127.5%.
The Malaysian legal system is based on English common law. The Federal Court reviews decisions referred from the Court of Appeals; it has original jurisdiction in constitutional matters and in disputes between states or between the federal government and a state. Peninsular Malaysia and the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak each have a high court.
The federal government has authority over external affairs, defense, internal security, justice (except civil law cases among Malays or other Muslims and other indigenous peoples, adjudicated under Islamic and traditional law), federal citizenship, finance, commerce, industry, communications, transportation, and other matters.
The Royal Malaysian Police have primary responsibility for internal security matters. The police report to and are under the effective control of the Home Minister. Some members of the police committed human rights abuses during the year 2001.
Police committed a number of extrajudicial killings, and authorities prosecuted the perpetrators in some of these cases. Police on occasion tortured, beat, or otherwise abused prisoners, detainees, and demonstrators.
Police increased their use of the Internal Security Act (ISA) to arrest and detain many persons, including members of the political opposition, without charge or trial. In addition, police continued to use several other statutes to arrest and detain many persons without charge or trial.
There were no reports of political killings in 2001; however, police committed a number of extrajudicial killings. Police leadership continued efforts to curb such abuses during the year 2001, including inviting the U.N. Human Rights Commission to provide human rights training to police officers and meeting with members of The Human Rights Commission.
At year's end 2001, the press reported that the police had killed 26 persons while apprehending them.
No constitutional provision or law specifically prohibits torture, although laws that prohibit "committing grievous hurt" encompass torture; however, at times some police tortured, beat, and otherwise abused prisoners, detainees, and other citizens. The authorities investigated some police and other officials for such abuses; however, the Government does not release routinely information on the results of investigations, and whether those responsible are punished is not always known.
Police sometimes abuse detainees. There were several press reports of persons who alleged being tortured or mistreated while detained by the police. For example, in March, 2001, a truck driver suspected of trafficking drugs told the High Court that he was kicked in the ribs and head by police officers until his eyebrows started to bleed. An opposition activist detained in April under the ISA also reported being harshly treated by police while in detention. He said that, among other things, he had been knocked from a chair while handcuffed. In response to such reports, the Government continued to require police to attend community relations and ethics courses to address public concerns over police misconduct.
Malaysian NGO's have stated that police sometimes subject criminal suspects and illegal alien detainees to physical and psychological torture during interrogation and detention. In June former Police Chief Rahim Noor was released early for good behavior after serving 40 days of his 2-month jail sentence for "causing hurt" to former deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. Rahim had pleaded guilty to beating Anwar in 1998 while Anwar was handcuffed and blindfolded in police custody. Charges of attempted assault were reduced as part of a plea bargain. Rahim had earlier paid a fine of $525 (RM 2000) for assaulting Anwar. No action has been taken against senior police officers who failed to arrest or report Rahim after the beating.
During the year 2001, riot police several times forcibly dispersed peaceful demonstrators around the country, using truncheons, water cannons, and tear gas. For example, in February, 2001, police broke up an opposition event in the state of Kedah with water cannons containing chemically-laced water. In August the Human Rights Commission released a report on police actions during an opposition demonstration in November 2000. The Commission faulted police for inciting some of the violence, attacking the dispersing crowd, and mistreating some of the persons who were detained during the incident. In a separate report on freedom of assembly, a related Commission made detailed recommendations related to the proper policing of public assemblies and called for police officers that used excessive force to be identified and held accountable. There were no reports that the Government has implemented the commission specific recommendations.
Logging companies reportedly used police force and intimidation to appropriate land from indigenous Iban and Penan communities in Sarawak.
Criminal law prescribes caning as an additional punishment to imprisonment for those convicted of some nonviolent crimes such as narcotics possession, criminal breach of trust, and alien smuggling. Judges routinely include caning in sentences of those convicted of such crimes as kidnaping, rape, and robbery. Some state Islamic laws, which bind only Muslims, also prescribe caning. The caning, which is carried out with a 1/2-inch-thick wooden cane, commonly causes welts, and it sometimes causes scarring. Male criminals age 50 and above and women are exempted from caning. According to the provisions of the Child Act passed in December, male children may be given up to 10 strokes of a "light cane".
The law provides for these rights; however, authorities infringed on citizens' privacy rights in some cases. Provisions in the security legislation allow the police to enter and search without a warrant the homes of persons suspected of threatening national security. Police also may confiscate evidence under these acts. In some cases each year, police use this legal authority to search homes and offices, seize books and papers, monitor conversations, and take persons into custody without a warrant.
A clause in the Anticorruption Act empowers the Attorney General to authorize the interception of mail and the wiretapping of telephones. Observers have indicated that such information would be admissible as evidence in a corruption trial.
The law permits the Home Ministry to place criminal suspects under restricted residence in a remote district away from their homes for a 2-year period.
Prolonged pretrial detention is a serious problem. In 2001, detained criminal suspects often were denied access to legal counsel prior to being charged formally. Many observers expressed serious doubts about the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, especially in high-profile cases. The politically motivated convictions of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar on charges of corruption and sodomy in 1999 and 2000 demonstrated the judiciary's lack of independence. However, while many observers continued to express doubts about the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, reforms instituted by the new chief justice appear to have led to some improvements in these areas. The remaining libel suits against a U.N. Special Rapporteur on Judicial Independence were dropped during the year 2001. Politically motivated, selective prosecution decreased during the year 2001; however, it continued to be a concern as authorities continued to infringe on citizens' privacy rights in some instances.
Police continued to use several statutes to arrest and detain many persons without charge or trial. Suspects in some crimes (called "sizable offenses") may be arrested without warrants; suspects in other crimes ("nonsizable offenses") may be arrested only based on a warrant from a magistrate. Crimes characterized as bailable offenses permit suspects to present bail at the police station according to a schedule. Bail is not available for nonbailable offenses and sometimes also is denied in other circumstances, for example, great risk of flight. Police may hold suspects for 24 hours without charge. Police may request a magistrate to extend the period of remand without charge for up to 2 weeks. After this extension, the police, if they wish to hold the suspect, must charge him and seek an order of detention from a magistrate. In some cases, police have released suspects under remand and quickly rearrested them on new but similar charges. However, in general police practice is in accord with legal provisions concerning detention.
Police may deny prisoners under remand access to legal counsel and routinely they do so. During this period of remand, police also may question suspects without giving them access to counsel. Police justify this practice as necessary to prevent interference in ongoing investigations. Judicial decisions have generally upheld this practice. Defendants' advocates claimed that the lack of access to counsel seriously weakened defendants' legal rights.
Three laws permit the Government to detain suspects without judicial review or the filing of formal charges: the Internal Security Act (ISA), the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance, and the Dangerous Drugs Act (Special Preventive Measures). The ISA, which originally was enacted when there was an active communist insurgency, empowers the police to hold for up to 60 days any person who may act "in a manner prejudicial to the security of Malaysia." The Home Minister may authorize further detention for periods of up to 2 years. Those released before the end of their detention period are subject to "imposed restricted conditions" for the remainder of their detention periods. These conditions limited their rights to freedom of speech, association, and travel outside the country.
According to the Government, the goal of the ISA is to control internal subversion. According to the local human rights NGO Suaram, as of November there were 78 persons in detention under the ISA. Deputy Home Minister Datuk Zainal Abidin Zin stated in July that 4,190 persons have been arrested under the ISA since its inception in 1960.
The ISA often is used against what the Government considers nonpolitical crimes, including those against ostensibly "deviant" Muslim groups. The Government states that deviant groups pose a danger to national security because of their radical beliefs. The ISA, and the threat of invoking the ISA, also are used to intimidate and restrict political dissent. The Government increased its use of the ISA during the year 2001, including against members of the political opposition. For example, in April the government used the ISA to detain 10 political activists who were leaders of, or closely associated with, the opposition National Justice Party (Keadilan), claiming that they represented a threat to national security. Six of these individuals received a 2-year detention order and remain in detention. In November, one of these six individuals was released from prison but kept under restricted residence. Two of the detainees who had been released earlier claimed that, during their interrogations while in police custody, they had been questioned only about their political beliefs and personal life but not about the alleged offenses for which they initially had been detained. In July two university students were detained under the ISA for participating in opposition political activities, including protesting against the ISA itself. Both were released within 60 days. In August police detained at least 10 members of an Islamic militant group--the so-called Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia (KMM)--under the ISA, for their reported involvement in antigovernment violence and their plans to conduct an antigovernment campaign of violence in the future. A newspaper reported that the group had intended to attack members of a U.S. Navy vessel visiting the country. Some of those arrested are members of the opposition Islamic Party (PAS), and one, the group's alleged leader, Nik Adli, is also the son of PAS leader and Chief Minister of Kelantan Nik Aziz. Nine of the 10 were ordered detained 2 years by the Home Affairs Minister. An additional six members of a related group were detained under the ISA in October. In December five of these individuals were ordered detained for 2 years by the Home Affairs Minister. The other individual was released without conditions. In 1998 the police detained Anwar Ibrahim and 27 of his followers under the ISA after a series of largely peaceful antigovernment demonstrations. The Government claimed that the demonstrations threatened national security.
Security authorities sometimes wait several days after detention before informing an ISA detainee's family. Even when there are no formal charges, the authorities must inform detainees of the accusations against them and permit them to appeal to an advisory board for review every 6 months. However, advisory board decisions and recommendations are not binding on the Home Minister, are not public, and often are not shown to the detainee. In the past, some ISA detainees have refused to participate in the review process under these circumstances.
Amendments to the ISA in 1987 sharply circumscribed judicial review of ISA detentions. Although the Bar Council has in the past asserted that detentions under the ISA should be subject to judicial review on both procedural and substantive grounds, the courts have not concurred with this interpretation, and they review ISA detentions only on technical grounds. Detainees freed on technical grounds nearly always are detained again immediately. However, in May Shah Alam High Court Judge Hishamuddin Mohd Yunus ordered the release of two opposition leaders who were detained in April under the ISA, calling their detentions unlawful and mala fide. In his ruling, the judge said that the police could not simply cite the ISA's function to "preserve national security" as justification for its use. Additionally, the judge included a special provision in his ruling that forbids the police from rearresting the two individuals in the first 24 hours after their release. As of the year's end, the two had not yet been rearrested. The Federal Court agreed to review this decision and that of another High Court Judge who upheld the detentions under the ISA of five other opposition activists. In August, a five-member Federal Court panel ruled that the five defendants could introduce affidavits with fresh information to contest their detentions.
Although there were new procedures announced in 2000 for ISA detention, which included amendments that senior police officials must concur with ISA detentions, by year's end the procedures were not implemented.
Opposition leaders and human rights organizations continued to call on the Government to repeal the ISA and other legislation that deprived persons of the right to defend themselves in court. For example, in May a group of 71 NGO's and opposition parties joined together to form the "Abolish the ISA Movement" (AIM). The group organized conferences, hosted a web site, and staged other events to broadcast its opposition to the ISA. In July it submitted a proposal to Parliament to repeal the ISA. However, during the year 2001, a number of ruling coalition politicians and government officials continued to state that the ISA remained necessary and would not be repealed. In the latter half of the year, the Government stepped up its pro-ISA rhetoric. Prime Minister Mahathir stated in September that the ISA was a necessary tool in combating the country's own terrorist threat.
Under the Emergency Ordinance the Home Minister may issue a detention order for up to 2 years against a person if he deems it necessary to protect public order, or for the "suppression of violence, or the prevention of crimes involving violence." In practice the Government has used the Emergency Ordinance for other reasons. According to Suaram, as of July 309 persons had been detained under the ordinance during the year 2001.
Provisions of the Dangerous Drugs Act (Special Preventive Measures) give the Government specific power to detain suspected drug traffickers without trial. Such suspects may be held for up to 39 days before the Home Minister must issue a detention order. Once the Ministry has issued an order, the detainee is entitled to a hearing before a court. In some instances, the judge may order the detainee's release. Suspects may be held without charge for successive 2-year intervals with periodic review by an advisory board, whose opinion is binding on the Home Minister. However, the review process contained none of the procedural rights that a defendant would have in a court proceeding. The police frequently detained suspected narcotics traffickers under the Special Preventive Measures after the traffickers were acquitted of formal charges--often as they left the courtroom. As of November, the Government had detained 1,820 persons under this measure. The Government detained over 1,300 persons under this law in 2000.
Immigration laws are used to detain possible illegal aliens without trial or hearing. The detainees are not accorded any administrative or legal hearings and are released only after their employers prove their legal status. Those who were able to produce legal documents normally were released immediately; those who were unable to prove their legal status often were held for extended periods before deportation. Illegal aliens were kept in detention centers that are separate from prisons.
Crowded and understaffed courts often result in lengthy pretrial detention, sometimes lasting several years. In 1998 the Prison's Director General stated that roughly half of the prison population consisted of prisoners who had not yet been sentenced. Most such prisoners either have been convicted and are awaiting sentence or are in the midst of their trials.
Law enforcement authorities also used the Restricted Residence Act to restrict movements of criminal suspects for an extended period. The act allows the Home Ministry to place criminal suspects under restricted residence in a remote district away from their homes for 2 years. The Ministry is authorized to issue the banishment orders without any judicial or administrative hearings. Human rights activists have questioned the need for this law, which was passed more than 60 years ago (during British sovereignty) under very different circumstances, and they have called for its repeal. The Government has continued to justify the act as a necessary tool and has used it in the past, primarily to combat vice and gambling offenses. The Government has not disclosed how many persons were subject to the Restricted Residence Act and no accurate estimate was available. In April 2000, there were 93 persons held in prison waiting to be place under restricted residence, and 17 of these persons were released from prison into restricted residence.
Since 1997 the "forgotten prisoners" have been released over a period of two to three years. There are no more "forgotten prisoners" in the country.
Section 396 of the Criminal Procedure Code allows the detention of a person whose testimony as a material witness is necessary in a criminal case, if that person is likely to abscond.
The Government does not use forced exile.
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, Government action, constitutional amendments, legislation restricting judicial review, and other factors steadily have eroded judicial independence and strengthened executive influence over the judiciary. In recent years, a number of high-profile cases cast doubts on judicial impartiality and independence, and raised questions of arbitrary verdicts, selective prosecution, and preferential treatment of some litigants and lawyers. Members of the bar, NGO's, and other observers continued to express serious concern about these problems.
However, many observers believe judicial independence has improved since Tan Sri Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah was appointed Chief Justice in December 2000. Immediately following his appointment, Chief Justice Dzaiddin spoke publicly about the importance of restoring public trust in the judiciary and instituted a rotational case-assignment system to ensure the impartiality of judges hearing any given case. Dzaiddin also repeatedly has stressed that a judge's loyalty must be to the law rather than to outside factors such as politics. During the year 2001, some high-profile cases were decided according to the legal merits of the case. However, some observers, including the Bar Council, expressed concern about a series of high-level judicial appointments during the year 2001. Former Attorney General Mohtar Abdullah was appointed to the Federal Court and Ahmad Fairuz was appointed Chief Judge of the High Court of Malaya. It also was announced that Gani Patail, the former lead prosecutor during Anwar trials in 1998 and 1999, would succeed Ainum Saaid as Attorney General. These observers commented that these developments appeared to indicate that executive encroachment on the judiciary could remain a serious concern.
High courts have original jurisdiction over all criminal cases involving serious crimes and most civil cases. Civil suits involving automobile accidents and landlord-tenant disputes are heard by sessions courts. Juvenile courts try offenders under age 18. The Special Court tries cases against the King and sultans. The Court of Appeal has appellate jurisdiction over high court and sessions court decisions. The Federal Court, the country's highest court, hears appeals of Court of Appeal decisions.
Islamic religious laws administered by state authorities through Islamic courts bind ethnic Malays and other Muslims in some matters. In 1997 the Government announced that it would harmonize Islamic law at the federal level and appoint an Islamic law federal attorney general. However, the Government has not been able to obtain the necessary agreement of all the states and the proposal has not been implemented, though it is still under discussion.
Indigenous peoples in Sarawak and Sabah also have a system of customary law to resolve matters such as land disputes between tribes.
Penghulu (village head) courts may adjudicate minor civil matters, but these rarely are used.
The military has a separate system of courts.
The secular legal system is based on English common law. Trials are public, although judges may order restrictions on press coverage. For example, in the corruption trial of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar, the judge often restricted press coverage of defense testimony and remarks that might embarrass senior government leaders. However, the judge generally did not restrict press coverage of testimony and remarks that might embarrass Anwar.
Defendants have the right to counsel, bail is sometimes available, and strict rules of evidence apply in court. Witnesses are subject to cross-examination. The defense in both ordinary criminal cases and special security cases is not entitled to a statement of evidence before the trial. In general, limited pretrial discovery in criminal cases hobbles defendants' ability to defend themselves.
Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence and may appeal court decisions to higher courts. In criminal cases, defendants also may appeal for clemency to the King or local state rulers as appropriate. A single judge hears each criminal trial. There are no jury trials.
A 1997 amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code that may erode defendants' presumption of innocence continued to concern lawyers. Before the 1997 amendment, the prosecution was required to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt or the defendant would receive a summary dismissal without having to present the defense case. The prosecution only needs to prove a legally sufficient unless disproved case, and the defense must be called. In August 1999, a man was convicted of murder after electing to enter a no defense. The judge ruled that the prosecution had proven a legally sufficient case and, when the man chose to offer no defense, the judge convicted him and sentenced him to death.
The Courts of Judicature Act was amended in 1998 to limit the rights of defendants to appeal in some circumstances. The Government stated that these amendments would expedite the hearing of cases in the upper courts. The president of the Bar Association stated that the amendments imposed too many restrictions on appeals.
The Attorney General may restrict the right to a fair trial in criminal cases by invoking the Essential (Security Cases) Regulations. These regulations governing trial procedure normally apply only in firearm cases. In cases tried under these regulations, the standards for accepting self-incriminating statements by defendants as evidence are less stringent than in normal criminal cases. Also, the authorities may hold the accused for an unspecified time before making formal charges. The Attorney General has the authority to invoke these regulations in other criminal cases if the Government determines that the crime involves national security considerations, but such cases are rare. However, the Essential Regulations were invoked in September 2000 at the beginning of the trial of 29 members of the Al-Ma'unah sect accused of carrying out arms thefts at two army posts in July 2000. Defense lawyers argued that the use of the Essential Regulations was unconstitutional, since no certificate of emergency declaring a national emergency had been issued. The judge ruled that the Attorney General has the discretion to opt to use the Essential Regulations, if he saw fit to do so.
Even when the Essential Regulations are not invoked, defendants and defense lawyers lack legal protections against interference. For example, during a trial police may call and interrogate witnesses who have given testimony not helpful to the prosecution. Human rights advocates accused police of using this tactic to intimidate witnesses. One instance of this practice led the Bar Council in July 1999 to issue a statement of concern. Police also have used raids and document seizures to harass defendants. Selective prosecution, that is, prosecution based on political rather than legal considerations, is a serious problem in the legal system. According to the law, the decision to prosecute a case rests solely with the Attorney General. In August 1999, the former Chief Justice publicly reminded magistrates and judges not to question the Attorney General's sole discretion to prosecute. Some NGO's have made credible accusations of political interference in the judicial process. However, the Chief Justice has made clear his opposition to the practices of the past and his intention to make the law, rather than political considerations, hold sway over the legal process, including decisions on whether or not to prosecute. Government officials, including the Minister in the Prime Minister's office responsible for legal affairs, have denied that the Attorney General practices selective prosecution.
Selective prosecution has been a problem in the past. In May 1999, the then-Attorney General warned that those accusing the Government of selective prosecution could be charged with sedition or criminal defamation. The Bar Council criticized the then-Attorney General's statement and stated that it showed "a lack of respect or understanding of the concept of democracy and the rule of law." No one was charged with sedition or criminal defamation on such grounds during the year 2001.
Contempt of court charges also have restricted the ability of defendants and their attorneys to defend themselves. However, one case suggests that the use of contempt of court charges against defendants and their attorneys may be changing. For example, Attorney Zainur Zakaria was convicted in 1998 by the High Court for contempt of court after refusing to apologize for filing a brief on behalf of his client, Anwar Ibrahim. The Appeals Court upheld his conviction in 1999. However, in June the Federal Court overturned the conviction, and stated that the High Court Judge, in his initial handling of the case, appeared to be acting as an agent for the prosecution.
Following a number of high-profile corruption cases, the Government amended the AntiCorruption Act in 1997. The law gives the Attorney General powers that impinge on the presumption of innocence and requires accused persons to prove that they acquired their monetary and other assets legally.
Islamic courts do not give equal weight to the testimony of women. Many NGO's have complained that women do not receive fair treatment from Islamic courts, especially in matters of divorce.
In June, 2001, the three remaining defamation suits against the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Datuk Param Cumaraswamy, were dropped. Param originally faced four such suits. In August 2000, a judge agreed with an April 1999 International Court of Justice ruling that Param's U.N. status gave him immunity from the first suit. The suits stemmed from an article in which Param and former Malaysian Bar Council President Tommy Thomas argued that certain companies, law firms and individuals enjoyed improper preferential treatment in the courts. Thomas was convicted in 1998 and sentenced to 6 months in prison. However, in April the Court of Appeal converted his jail sentence into a $2,500 (RM 10,000) fine. Thomas paid his fine, and the case was closed.
The cases against former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and some of his associates, and against Irene Fernandez, raised serious questions about judicial independence and impartiality. Nonetheless, the Courts did not rule exclusively in favor of the Government. A Member of Parliament (M.P.) from the ruling coalition government was convicted in 2000 and fined more than $2,600 (10,000 RM) on a contempt charge. However, in August the Appeals court set aside his conviction.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is a political prisoner because he was charged, tried, and convicted in a legal process that was politically motivated and patently unfair. In September 1998, after a political conflict, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad removed Anwar as Deputy Prime Minister. Later the same month, after a large and mostly peaceful demonstration in which he called for Mahathir's resignation, Anwar was detained for alleged corruption and sodomy. Many observers believe the government manufactured these charges and used them to remove Anwar, who appeared to be gaining popular support after he was fired, from the political scene. While in detention, Anwar was beaten by the former Inspector General of Police Rahim Noor.
For several days, Anwar was denied medical treatment for the injuries that he received at the hands of Rahim. Presumably to avoid bringing a visibly injured Anwar to court, police changed Anwar's status to "detention without charge" under the Internal Security Act. Anwar's status subsequently was changed again to criminal detention.
During Anwar's corruption trial, the judge made several questionable rulings that greatly limited Anwar's ability to defend himself. For example, the judge sentenced one of Anwar's attorneys to 3 months' imprisonment for contempt after the attorney raised in court charges of prosecutorial misconduct. The judge greatly restricted the scope of Anwar's defense (on occasions during the trial, the judge explicitly said that he did not care if there was a conspiracy to bring down Anwar) and tolerated improper activities by the police and prosecutors. The judge allowed prosecutors to amend the charges in the middle of the trial, which is permitted under the law but in this case was unfair to Anwar. Anwar was denied the ability to rebut evidence of sexual misconduct presented by prosecution witnesses when the judge, at the end of the prosecution's case, allowed prosecutors to amend the charges, and then expunged the record of all evidence of sexual misconduct. Since his arrest, Anwar has been denied bail on questionable legal grounds.
At the beginning of the sodomy trial, prosecutors changed the dates of the alleged acts of sodomy, allegedly because the defense had discovered that the apartment building where the sodomy allegedly took place had not been completed by the original dates. Despite testimony detailing how police had coerced a confession from an alleged homosexual partner, in July 1999, the judge ruled that the prosecution had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that this confession had been voluntary. A few days later, another witness admitted that police had coached part of his testimony. In August 1999, the lead police investigator materially contradicted his testimony (in order to make it consistent with the amended dates of the alleged offense); the next day, the judge ruled that the policeman had not lied. In April 2000, the judge ruled that the Prime Minister, who was called by the defense in an attempt to prove a political conspiracy against Anwar, would not be required to testify. Defense attorneys maintained that they were not permitted by the judge to call a number of desired witnesses. The defense claimed that the judge exerted pressure to bring the trial to an early conclusion. In his written ruling, which was released in June, the judge said that the testimony of the chief prosecution witness--widely viewed as deeply flawed and lacking credibility--was as solid as the "Rock of Gibraltar."
In 1999 Anwar was convicted on four counts of corruption and sentenced to 6 years in prison. In April 2000, Anwar's appeal of the conviction and sentence was denied by the Court of Appeals. His appeal to Federal Court, the country's highest court, was postponed at the request of his lawyers while Anwar was in the hospital being treated for a slipped disk in his back. In August 2000, Anwar was convicted on a separate charge of sodomy and sentenced to 9 years in prison, to be served consecutively with the 6-year sentence that Anwar received for corruption. Anwar's lawyers requested that this conviction be reviewed by the Appeals Court. At year's end 2001, the date for this appeal has not yet been set. On May 12, the High Court acquitted Anwar of the four remaining charges of sodomy and one charge of corruption that were pending against him after the prosecution withdrew the charges against the former Deputy Prime Minister. Most observers believe this was because the charges were without basis and would have resulted in further government embarrassment should they have been aired in open court. The Federal Court was scheduled to hear Anwar's appeal on the remaining corruption charges in November, but the appeal again was postponed, and no new date had been scheduled as of year's end.
Anwar will be disqualified from holding any public office for 5 years once he completes his 15-year sentence, unless he wins his appeals.
Anwar's conviction and sentence were criticized strongly by opposition parties, human rights groups, and a number of foreign governments and international human rights organizations. For example, the Malaysian Bar Council criticized the trial, citing irregularities in the evidence, and characterized the sentence as "manifestly excessive and harsh." After spending nearly 6 months in a hospital receiving treatment for a slipped disk in his back, Anwar was sent back to prison in May. Anwar remained in prison at year's end 2001. He is permitted to receive visits from only his family and lawyers. According to the law, Anwar is a "common criminal" rather than a political prisoner, and therefore does not have the right to receive visits from international human rights organizations.
In a May public statement, the Human Rights Commission stated that there were no laws prohibiting Anwar from being sent abroad for the medical treatment of his choice. The Government has denied Anwar's request for medical treatment abroad.
Anwar Ibrahim is a political prisoner. In addition, the five individuals associated with the Anwar-based National Justice Party who were arrested in April and who remained in detention under the ISA at year's end 2001, are political detainees.
In 1999, an Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) delegation found that prison conditions were not in accord with international norms; the Government subsequently took some steps to improve prison conditions. Conditions in the detention facilities of illegal aliens continued to pose a threat to health, although marginal improvements in food and water rations were reported.
Prison conditions are poor. During the year 2001, the Human Rights Commission called for prison authorities to provide standard medical treatment and food for prisoners. The authorities in 1999 announced that changes would be made concerning prison conditions, in the wake of a 1999 report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union on the treatment in prison of then political prisoner Lim Guan Eng. The report found that the conditions of Lim's imprisonment did not comply with the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules (Treatment of Prisoners) and the U.N. Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under any Form of Detention or Imprisonment. The report cited portions of the Minimum Rules that concern light, ventilation, and proper bedding, and Principle 6 of the Body of Principles, which prohibits torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. However, the delegation that drafted this report did not visit Lim in prison, and therefore was unable to make direct observations. The Government stated that Lim was detained under the same conditions as other prisoners and in accordance with the colonial-era 1952 Prison Rules and the 1995 Prisons Act, which, the Government contended, met the standards of the U.N. Minimum Rules.
Prison overcrowding is a serious problem. However, after visiting a number of prisons several Human Rights Commissioners said that in general they were satisfied that conditions in those prisons were acceptable. In June the Director General of Prisons said that the country's 34 prisons held 29,000 inmates; The prisons are designed to have a capacity of 22,000. During the year 2001, a moral rehabilitation center was built, but two promised juvenile reform schools were not. In March 2000, the Deputy Home Minister announced that five more prisons were to be built by 2005. "Security" prisoners were detained in a separate detention center.
Credible reports by former prisoners indicated that guards at some prisons regularly beat prisoners convicted of criminal offenses.
NGO's and former detainees have made credible allegations of inadequate food, poor medical care and sanitation, and abuse by guards in government camps for illegal immigrants. Conditions are considered to have improved with increased food and water rations, and vitamin B shots for detainees suffering from beri-beri. In past years, there were reports of deaths, poor conditions, and serious abuse of inmates at the camps of Burmese Rohingya illegal immigrants.
Deputy Home Minister Ong Ka Ting told Parliament in 1999 that the Government had completed a review of prison rules and made amendments that would improve the management of prisoners, although no such amendments have been made public. Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi announced in April 2000 that the Government had spent over $250,000 (1 million RM) during the year 2001 to provide every prisoner with a mattress, although this had not been confirmed by independent monitors by year's end. In August prison officials announced that a number of prison rules would be reviewed. Officials stated that these changes would include allowing female prisoners to keep children with them until age 4 instead of the existing restriction to age 3 and expanding visiting privileges, although none of these changes had been made by year's end.
The law provides that young boys and girls in remand (judicially approved detention) may be placed in prison. The local press reported in September 2000 that children as young as 10 years old were held in prisons for offenses such as petty theft or involvement in school fights. Although kept in a separate cellblock, they reportedly mingled with adult prisoners during communal activities. However, a prison official claimed that the juvenile prisoners, 82 of whom were waiting for their cases to be heard, are kept separately from adult prisoners at all times. In September the Government identified 2,061 juveniles held in 26 prisons throughout the country.
The Government has an agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that permits visits to certain categories of prisoners. The ICRC has not been requested to make such visits. Members of the Human Rights Commission visited several prisons during the year 2001, and stated that they were satisfied that conditions were acceptable. According to one ICRC representative, prison conditions do not represent a significant problem. NGO's and the media generally are not permitted to monitor prison conditions. Access to illegal alien detention camps is restricted.
Violence against women remains a problem. Spousal abuse has drawn considerable government, NGO, and press attention. According to the Royal Malaysian Police, there were 3,468 cases of domestic violence reported in 2000; however, the Government had not released comprehensive statistics on domestic violence by year's end.
The Domestic Violence Act addresses violence against women in the home. However, women's groups criticized the act as inadequate and called for amendments to strengthen it. In their view, the act fails to protect women in immediate danger by requiring separate reports of abuse to be filed with both the Welfare Department and the police. This requirement causes delay in the issuance of a restraining order against the perpetrator. Women's rights activists also highlighted the fact that because the act is a part of the Penal Code, legal protection for victims is limited to cases in which visible evidence of physical injury is present, despite its interpretation to include sexual and psychological abuse. In April 2000 the Government announced plans to review weaknesses in the law and eliminate legal loopholes; however, the Government had taken no action by year's end.
Although the Government, NGO's, and political parties have established shelters and offer other assistance to battered spouses, activists asserted that support mechanisms for victims of domestic violence remain inadequate. Police responses and sensitivity to complaints of domestic violence have improved, but women's rights activists claim that the police need additional training in handling domestic abuse as well as rape cases.
Domestic violence complaints are rare under Islamic law. Some Shari'a experts have urged Muslim women to become more aware of the provisions of Shari'a that prohibit spousal abuse and provide for divorces on grounds of physical cruelty. Nonetheless, Shari'a generally (each state has a separate code) prohibits wives from disobeying the lawful orders of their husbands. These provisions often present an obstacle to women pursuing claims, including charges of abuse, in Shari'a courts against their husbands, though Muslim women are able to file complaints in the civil courts.
Spousal rape is not a crime. Theoretically a man who raped his wife could face charges of assault; however, women's rights activists claim that no man has been convicted in such circumstances.
Reports of rape are common in the press and among women's rights groups and NGO's. In December 1999, a women's NGO issued a report that stated that the incidence of rape had increased 48 percent in the 5-year period from 1993 to 1998; more than 50 percent of rape victims are under age 16. Statistics from the Royal Malaysian Police show 1,354 reported cases of rape during the year 2001. Many Government hospitals have set up crisis centers where victims of rape and domestic abuse can make reports without going to a police station. NGO's and political parties also cooperate in providing counseling for rape victims. Nonetheless, cultural attitudes and a perceived lack of sympathy from the largely male police force lead many victims not to report rapes. According to the Ministry of Women and Family Development and a leading women's NGO, only 10 percent of rape cases are reported to the police. In a 2000 study involving 417 court files from 7 state capitals and Kuala Lumpur, even when alleged rape is reported, only 1 in 5 cases is heard in court, and only 1 percent of the reported cases resulted in a rape conviction. Some rapists receive heavy punishments, including caning, but women's groups complain that some rapists receive inadequate punishments. The Penal Code states that a convicted rapist shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not less than 5 years and not more than 20 years.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is condemned widely by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health. According to a well known women's NGO activist, some girls in provincial areas are subject to varying forms of FGM. Some Malay girls receive a tiny ritual cut to the clitoris or participate in a ceremony where a blade is brought close to the clitoris. Almost all Malay women, including Muslim women's activists, do not believe that this constitutes mutilation or reduces a woman's future capacity for sexual pleasure.
A 1998 International Labor Organization (ILO) study estimated that there were roughly 40,000 to 140,000 prostitutes in the country. The Government strongly disputed this estimate, and the police stated that they would investigate NGO's that might have provided the information that formed the basis of the study. Since prostitution itself is not illegal, statistics are only available for foreigners arrested for immigration or other offenses with suspected involvement in prostitution. The Royal Malaysian police arrested 2,338 foreign women with suspected involvement in prostitution during 2000. Sex tourism is not legal, and the level of such activity is not believed to be high.
The number of foreign persons arrested with suspected involvement in prostitution is increasing. Police attribute the increase to more vigorous enforcement efforts. Police also believed that the increasing number of arrests was a result of greater numbers of women trafficked to the country from countries of the former Soviet Union.
The country is a source and destination country for trafficking in women for purposes of prostitution.
State governments in Kelantan and Terrengganu, which are controlled by the Islamic opposition party, made efforts to restrict Muslim women's dress in 2000, but there were no reports of additional restrictions on dress or punitive action against women not adhering to the dress code during the year 2001. The Terrengganu state government introduced a dress code in 2000 for government employees and workers on business premises. Terrengganu's executive counselor in charge of women's and non-Muslim's affairs claimed that the dress code was designed to protect the image of Muslim women and to promote Islam as a way of life. One Muslim women's NGO criticized the new requirement, stating that forced compliance with a state mandated dress code is not consistent with the values of the Koran, although the law is not known to have been enforced. According to an online resource, Muslim women have previously been fired in Kelantan for not wearing a head covering, although independent sources were unable to verify this report.
Non-Muslim women are subject to civil (secular) law. Changes in the Civil Marriage and Divorce Act increased the protection of married women's rights, especially those married under customary rites. The Guardianship of Women's and Infants Act was amended in 1999 to give mothers equal parental rights. Four states extended the provisions of the amended bill to Muslim mothers. Women's groups urged all states to do the same. In 1999 the Land and Cooperative Development Ministry announced that it was considering amending the Group Settlement Act to give wives of settlers a stake in the land awarded to their husbands, but no change has been implemented.
In December 2000, Parliament passed the Child Act of 2000; however, the act has not yet entered into force. The act incorporates the principles of the U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child, which the Government has ratified. The act stipulates heavier punishments for child abuse, molestation, neglect, and abandonment. It also mandates the formation of a children's court, which, the Government stated, would better protect the interests of children. The bill allows caning, but this punishment is limited to male children, who may receive a maximum of 10 strokes with a "light cane." Entry into force of the new law would repeal three other laws governing child prostitution, child abuse, and delinquency, including the Women and Girls Protection Act, the Juvenile Courts Act, and the Child Protection Act.
The Government recognizes that sexual exploitation of children and incest are problems. Incest in particular is a problem in rural areas. Child abuse receives wide coverage in the press. The Government sternly prosecutes cases of child abuse, and child molesters receive heavy jail sentences and caning. However, under the Evidence Act, the testimony of children is accepted only if there is corroborating evidence. This poses special problems for molestation cases in which the child victim is the only witness. Some judges and others have recommended that the Evidence Act be amended to accept the testimony of children and that courts implement special procedures to hear the testimony of children. In August 1999, a physician who studies child abuse acknowledged publicly that sexual abuse of children occurred in the country. In July a women's NGO began promoting an education package about child sexual abuse. The package of booklets, videos and discussion topics are designed for use in primary schools. Forty schools have asked to use the materials, and the NGO hopes the Ministry of Education will to introduce the package into the curriculum of all primary schools.
Statutory rape occurs and is prosecuted. However, Islamic law provisions that consider a Muslim girl an adult after she has had her first menstruation sometimes complicate prosecution of statutory rape. Such a girl may be charged with "khalwat" or "close proximity" (the charge usually used to prosecute premarital or extramarital sexual relations), even if she is under the age of 18 and her partner is an adult. Thus, Shari'a sometimes punishes the victims of statutory rape. Moreover, Shari'a courts sometimes are more lenient with males who are charged with "close proximity." However, in many cases Muslim men are charged and punished for statutory rape under secular law.
Child prostitution exists. However, child prostitutes often are treated as delinquents rather than victims. In 1998 the Minister of National Unity and Social Development stated that 150 to 160 underage girls are detained each year for involvement in immoral activities and sent to rehabilitation centers. Statistics for the apprehension of traffickers are not available.
TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS
The Constitution prohibits slavery; however, this provision has not been invoked in cases of trafficking in persons, and trafficking in women, and occasionally girls, for the purpose of prostitution is a problem.
The country is a source and destination country for trafficking in women and girls for sexual exploitation. Young women from primarily Indonesia, China, Thailand, and the Philippines are trafficked into Malaysia for sexual exploitation. There also are reports that Burmese adults are trafficked to Malaysia.
The Royal Malaysian Police arrested 3,607 foreign prostitutes in 2000. Police believe that number of arrests in 2000 was a result of a greater numbers of women being brought to the country from countries of the former Soviet Union. There are allegations that some level of corruption must exist among law enforcement since some trafficking victims have been known to pass through two or more ports of entry without travel documents. Most foreign prostitutes in the country still come from Indonesia, the Philippines, Burma, Thailand, and China. These women often work as karaoke hostesses, "guest relations officers," and masseuses.
Malaysian women are trafficked for sexual purposes mostly to Singapore, Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, but also to Japan, Australia, Canada, and the United States. According to police and Chinese community leaders, Malaysian women who are victims of traffickers are almost exclusively ethnic Chinese, although ethnic Malay and ethnic Indian women work as prostitutes domestically. Police and NGO's believe that Chinese criminal syndicates are behind most of the trafficking (both incoming and outgoing) of women of all nationalities.
Individual government officials may provide counterfeit documents illicitly to traffickers (although no specific cases were reported), but government agencies try to eradicate corruption and fraud within their ranks. Trafficking victims are kept compliant through involuntary confinement, confiscation of travel documents, debt bondage, and physical abuse. The Penal Code includes special provisions related to trafficking only for purposes of prostitution. Specific sections of the Penal Code prohibit the sale or hire of anyone under 21 for purposes of prostitution. Another section prohibits the importing of any woman for purposes of prostitution. Punishment for these offenses includes a maximum 10-year prison term or a fine, to be determined at the discretion of the sentencing judge. In November 2000, the local press reported that implementation of the Child Act 2000, which would automatically repeal the Women and Girls Protection Act, would create a legal loophole that decriminalized procurement which is covered only by the Women and Girls Protection Act. The press reported that the Ministry of National Unity and Social Development was working with the Attorney General's drafting department to close the loophole before the act entered into force, but no developments were reported at year's end 2001.
The Government assists underage girls and has rescued some kidnaped women. Police often raid venues of prostitution. For example, Selangor state police stated that they raided 1,230 suspected "vice dens" during 1999. However, NGO's and women's rights activists complain that police have no coherent policy to protect victims of trafficking. Rather than prosecute traffickers, police generally arrest or deport individual women for immigration offenses. Some trafficking women who exhibit signs of physical abuse may be sent to a woman's shelter instead of being kept by the police; however, permission from the police to allow victims to reside in a shelter is sometimes difficult to obtain. Statistics for apprehension of traffickers are not available. From 1998 through June, 130 individuals involved in the harboring of prostitutes were placed under "restricted residence." The Restricted Residence Act is designed to deter organized criminal activity and requires individuals to temporarily move to a predetermined location far from their usual domicile, and check in regularly with police. However, the Government maintains it has not prosecuted anyone for the offense of trafficking of persons. There are active NGO's that provide assistance to trafficking victims. NGO shelter provides counseling and medical and legal referrals, but the Government does not appear to support financially the work of NGO's. Repatriated Malaysian victims are eligible for public assistance and at least one community-based organization offers services such as counseling to victims.
A local women's NGO is working with the Malaysian Bar Council to draft legislation specifically aimed at prosecuting traffickers and protecting victims.
Malaysia is not a significant producer of illegal drugs. Some U.S. and European-bound heroin from nearby drug-producing nations of Southeast Asia transits Malaysia, as do some other drugs. Domestic consumption and trafficking of many types of illicit drugs continue to be problems. Malaysia's well-trained and professional corps of counter-narcotics police officers have the full support of senior government officials. The Asian economic crisis forced deep cuts in Malaysian government spending. These budget cuts have hurt Malaysia's counter-narcotics enforcement, prevention, training, treatment, and rehabilitation activities. Malaysia may be able to counterbalance some of these cuts through cooperation with other countries. Cooperation with the U.S. on combating drug trafficking has been excellent. Malaysia is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention.
Malaysia is not a significant drug-producing country. Some historical heroin smuggling routes from the Golden Triangle to Europe and the U.S. transit Malaysia, but there is no evidence that such drugs reach the U.S. in significant amounts any longer. Other more recent drugs of abuse also transit Malaysia. Domestic drug use, including heroin, continues to be a problem. Malaysia has not enacted a comprehensive anti-money laundering statute and money laundering is still a potential concern. Smuggling of precursor chemicals is beginning to be a problem.
Malaysia gives high priority to counternarcotics work, which senior leaders regard as one of Malaysia's top national priorities. Malaysia's efforts are well organized and well planned. A senior level national drug council meets monthly to coordinate drug policy. The anti-narcotics division of the police enjoys department status. Malaysia's current economic troubles have forced severe across-the-board government budget cuts and counter-narcotics agencies have not been spared. In this environment, the government has made prevention work among the young a priority, while continuing vigorous law enforcement efforts. Malaysia may be able to counterbalance domestic budget cuts through international cooperation with ASEAN and other countries, including the U.S.
Malaysian police continued to give a high priority to narcotics crimes and to prosecute narcotics offenses at a vigorous pace. Heroin and other narcotics seizures tend to be of small amounts. The great majority of heroin seizures are one kilogram or less. There were no large heroin seizures in 1998. As in previous years, cooperation with U.S. law enforcement agencies was excellent.
As in previous years, several police officers were arrested and prosecuted for drug-related corruption. These included low-ranking prison guards and police officers. No senior police were prosecuted for drug-related corruption.
Because of Malaysia's position astride smuggling routes from the Golden Triangle, heroin continued to transit through Malaysia's land, air, and sea borders. There was no evidence that in 1998 heroin transiting Malaysia had a significant effect on the U.S. market.
Malaysia, with the help of the United States, is now proceeding with plans to expand a pilot school demand reduction program into a nationwide program. Malaysia is also instituting a work-place prevention program. Budget cuts led to some reductions in resources for rehabilitation programs. Plans to open four new treatment centers to alleviate overcrowding were postponed because of budget problems. There were incidents of violence at treatment centers due largely to overcrowding. The government is asking non-governmental organizations to shoulder some of the burden of rehabilitation.