Various human rights abuses resulting from attempts to contain the 1MDB scandal was highlighted in the US Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2016.
“In the wake of a government financial scandal dating back to 2014, whistleblowers and critics faced censorship, police intimidation, investigation, and criminal charges.
“Print and broadcast media outlets self-censored news coverage of the scandal.
“Online media offered more independent and critical perspectives, but were often the target of legal action and harassment, leading one site to shut down,” read the report.
The report, released in the US earlier today, had generated its own controversy as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson broke from tradition by being absent.
Among others, the report highlighted the prosecution of Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli and the blocking of Medium.com and The Malaysian Insider, all of which were linked to the 1MDB scandal.
Rafizi was on Nov 14 sentenced to 18 months in prison for leaking parts of the auditor-general’s report on 1MDB which the government had refused to release and classified it under the Official Secrets Act 1972.
The PKR vice-president remains free for now pending an appeal.
“In January the government blocked access to publishing platform Medium after it refused to remove an article hosted on its site about a financial corruption scandal involving the prime minister.
“In February the government blocked popular online news outlet The Malaysian Insider for ‘violating national laws’, allegedly related to its reporting on a government financial scandal. The site closed a month later,” said the report.
Medium was blocked after Sarawak Report used the platform to publish a report claiming Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak was negotiating an exit over the 1MDB scandal.
The Malaysian Insider was blocked after it published an article relating to evidence to possibly prosecute the prime minister in relation to the 1MDB scandal.
Najib claimed the multi-billion ringgit deposit in his personal bank accounts, first highlighted in July 2015, was not from 1MDB but a “donation” from a member of the Saudi Arabia royal family.
He denied wrongdoing or taking public funds for personal gain.
Changes in MACC highlighted
The report also highlighted changes in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) after it probed the 1MDB scandal.
“In August the top three MACC officials retired or transferred to other ministries.
“Opposition leaders and NGOs criticised the changes as ‘the death knell of the MACC’ following multiple transfers of other key personnel in 2015 that stalled investigations into billions of dollars in funds allegedly stolen from state-owned development company 1MDB,” it said.
The report noted that the MACC’s new leadership publicised several high-profile cases and arrested high-ranking officials.
This include bringing charges against a high-ranking Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) officer and the chairperson of Bank Rakyat at that time.
The full report can be found here.