GLOBAL watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the US Congress to tell President Donald Trump’s administration that Malaysia is only valuable as a partner if it respects the rights of its citizens.
HRW Asia advocacy director John Sifton said the message must also be communicated to Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is due to meet members of the Congress today.
He said there was a need for Malaysia to embrace both political discourse and dissent, and protect religious diversity, adding that Najib should be reminded that his White House visit did not mean the US disregarded the rights violations that he had committed to save his own skin and political career.
“With the Department of Justice seeking the forfeiture of more than US$1 billion in assets that were allegedly purchased in the US with funds looted from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, based on a civil complaint that alleges that hundreds of millions of dollars were deposited in Najib’s personal account, Najib is precisely the kind of leader for whom Trump should not roll out the red carpet at the White House.
Sifton said since taking office in January, Trump had welcomed a slew of “abusive leaders”, such as those from Egypt and Vietnam, and Najib was the next to join the list.
“The kind of Southeast Asian partner that the US needs to help counter terrorism and sectarian violence in the region is not one that jails its critics and promotes religious intolerance.”
He said contrary to Najib’s speech in April on the “thriving” freedom of speech in Malaysia, the reality was that the government had arrested dozens of opposition politicians and activists, and charged them with sedition and other offences for criticising the government or Najib on social media.
“Newspapers critical of the government have been shuttered, and participants in peaceful protests have been arrested and charged with violating the restrictive Peaceful Assembly Law,” he said, adding that Najib’s government has used all the tools at its disposal to limit discussion on 1MDB.
He said the prime minister also used religion for political purposes in dangerous ways, which encouraged the rise of religious intolerance in the country by promoting a “pro-Islamic” agenda that appealed to conservative Malay voters, as part of efforts to hold on to power.