Asia CSOs ask for Malaysia to drop all investigations and halt intimidation on activists over an animated film about torture in police custody

Five civil society organisations (CSOs) including CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Asia Democracy Network (ADN), Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Front Line and WITNESS raise concerns around police investigations into at least six activists and human rights defenders around an animated film about torture in police custody.

The four-minute animated film, titled “Chilli Powder & Thinner”, is based on the testimony of a 16-year-old boy who was allegedly arrested and beaten up by police along with two other individuals. One method illustrated in the film – the application of chili powder and paint thinner to the skin – is the source of the film’s name.

On 2 July 2021, Freedom Film Network co-founder Anna Har and cartoonist Amin Landak were called in by the police for questioning around the film. An hour later, police also raided the office of the Freedom Film Network as well as the home of Amin Landak. The police confiscated computers, modems, routers, pen drives, microphones and related equipment.

The two activists are being investigated under Section 500 of the Penal Code for defamation, Section 505 (b) of the Penal Code for statements that could cause public alarm and distress, and Section 233 (1) (a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act for improper use of network facilities.

On 6 July 2021, three members of human rights groups SUARAM including Sevan Doraisamy, Mohammad Alshatri, Kua Kia Soong and a guest panel speaker at the forum from Misi Solidariti, Sharon Wah, were also called in for questioning by the police in relation to the film.

The CSOs are extremely concerned about the probe into the six activists by the police for their work in creating awareness around police abuse. The right to freedom of opinion and expression includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” This right is guaranteed in the Malaysian Constitution as well as Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Instead of targeting them, the authorities should rather focus on investigating the allegations of police abuse highlighted in the film.

The organisations are also concerned about the raids on their office and home which we believe are aimed to intimidate them and to create a chilling effect for those who would like to speak up and expose abuses by the authorities.

Further, the laws being used against them are extremely broad and vague and inconsistent with international law and standards. These “catch-all” provisions have been systematically used to arrest and investigate human rights defenders for the activism as well government critics.

These actions highlight a broader pattern of human rights violations by the Perikatan Nasional government which has initiated baseless criminal proceedings against government critics, human rights defenders, journalists, and individuals expressing critical opinions, since coming to power in March 2020. It has also attempted to silence peaceful protesters and impede the formation of political parties.

The CSOs expressed disappointment over such actions being taken at a time when Malaysia is seeking for candidacy of the UN Human Right Council and has made pledges to respect and protect human right including freedom of expression.

As such, they urge Malaysia authorities to take the following steps as a matter of priority:

  • Immediately and unconditionally drop all investigations and stop all acts of intimidation against all the civil society activists associated with the animated short film and lift all restrictions on the exercise of their human rights;
  • Create a safe and enabling environment for activists, human rights defenders and other members of Malaysia civil society to peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly without intimidation, harassment, arrest or prosecution;
  • Review all provisions that criminalises freedom of expression in the Penal Code, the Communications and Multimedia Act and other laws and bring them in line with international law and standards.
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