(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): In the past two days, the much-maligned London-based human rights watchdog, Amnesty International (AI), was given unprecedented favourable coverage by the Malaysian mass media because of one of its latest report about human rights violations, with a national daily using it as the subject of its editorial today.
This is the 153-page AI report "Rights for All," which reported on human rights violations in the United States prisons and criminal justice system.
In the report, Amnesty International accused the U.S. prison system of a "persistent and widespread pattern of human rights violations."
The AI report said that "Cruel, degrading and sometimes life-threatening methods of restraint continue to be a feature of the U.S. criminal justice system," and it also discussed electroshock stun technology, riot shields and other devices used by prison guards and police officers.
Other violations cited by the Amnesty International report include police brutality, sexual abuse of female prisoners and the mistreatment of people seeking asylum.
The Malaysian mass media, including the New Straits Times which carried an editorial entitled "US Double Standards Exposed" on the AI report should be commended for speaking up against human rights violations wherever they occur in any part of the globe, as human rights violations against any individual must be regarded as a violation of the rights of humanity as a whole.
As the remaining world super power, the United States has no justification
for any human rights abuses in the country and must be prepared to stand
up to international scrutiny of its human rights standards and practices.
However, the Malaysian mass media should be consistent to castigate not only the United States for abuses of human rights but should also speak up against human rights violations inside the country.
As the AI report concerned is specifically about human rights abuses in prisons and the criminal justice system in the United States, is there a preparedness on the part of the local mass media to investigate and assess the extent of human rights abuses in Malaysian prisons and the criminal justice system?
When Tenaganita director, Irene Fernandez, tried to raise the alarm about human rights abuses at the Semenyih Illegal Immigrants Detention Centre in August 1986, she found herself in the dock in a ongoing marathon trial for committing the offence of publishing "false news" under the Printing Presses and Publications Act.
The treatment of former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, while under detention has also become an international cause celebre highlighting Malaysia’s criminal justice system - which had not been helped by Anwar’s black eye when he was produced in court, alleging that he was badly beaten up by the police on the first night of his arrest ten days earlier; the failure to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations of police brutality and Anwar’s continued detention under the Internal Security Act although he had been charged for various serious offences in court.
The strictures which the Malaysian mass media made against the human rights violations in the United States prisons and the criminal justice system would have carried more weight if they had also spoken up against any such abuses in Malaysia and for a more just and humane treatment of Anwar under the criminal justice system in Malaysia.
What is unfortunate is the implicit position in the local mass media that no one, whether inside or outside the country, should complain about human rights abuses in the justice system in Malaysia when even in the United States, there could be human rights violations in its prisons and criminal justice system - which is clearly unacceptable.
It is quite rare for the Malaysian establishment mass media to endorse the Amnesty International’s human rights reports, as they tend to suspect the AI as part of a Western-inspired conspiracy to denigrate Malaysia.
However, if the Malaysia mass media can accept the AI’s report on human rights abuses in the United States prisons and criminal justice system, they should be more open and receptive to AI’s reports on human rights violations in Malaysia.
AI for instance has declared Anwar and the others detained with him under the Internal Security Act as "prisoners of conscience detained solely for non-violently calling for political reforms and for holding different opinions to the Prime Minister" , called for their immediate release and expressed "serious concern that the men are at risk of ill-treatment - including the aggressive, prolonged interrogation techniques previous ISA detainees have suffered - while held in incommunicado detention at an unknown location".
On August 25, AI also adopted DAP Deputy Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Guan Eng, as prisoner of conscience when it said:
"Amnesty International is deeply shocked at today's decision by the Federal Court, Malaysia's highest court, to uphold a two eighteen month sentences, to be served simultaneously, against opposition parliamentarian Lim Guan Eng for sedition and publishing ‘false news’.
"Lim Guan Eng today becomes a prisoner of conscience, solely for expressing his opinion and fulfilling his duties as a parliamentarian. We believe the charges laid against him, and the authorities' demands for a custodial sentence, were politically-motivated and aimed to remove a prominent political critic from further participation in public life."
It is unfortunate that some of the local media which are giving such extensive coverage to the AI report on human rights abuses in the United States failed not only to respond to these AI initiatives concerning Malaysia, they also failed to report on them.
Can Malaysians expect a more even-handed treatment of AI reports and statements by the local mass media in future?