In April, the government announced plans to provide for mandatory jail sentences and caning under the Passport Bill. In June, officials proposed the caning of inmates who run away from drug rehabilitation centres more than twice and in November the government proposed amendments to the Immigration Act to provide mandatory caning for illegal immigrants who re-enter the country after deportation (see Amnesty International Report 1995).
Fourteen former members of the banned Al Arqam Islamic sect were ordered to be detained without trial for two years under the isa. They were possible prisoners of conscience. They were among 18 former members of Al Arqam arrested between May and June and accused of attempting to revive the sect. Four of those arrested were released but reportedly placed under a restriction order limiting their freedom of expression and of movement. In December, the government threatened to use the isa to arrest members of local non-governmental organizations seeking to hold a forum on alleged abuses of police powers. The organizers suspended the forum.
Six former members of the Communist Party of Malaya detained under the isa in 1989 were reportedly released (see Amnesty International Report 1995).
In November, police arrested 106 people attending an international conference on East Timor. The peaceful meeting was forcibly disrupted by members of the youth wing of the United Malays National Organisation and other members of the Barisan Nasional, National Front, ruling coalition. Forty-eight foreign participants were deported and the remaining detainees were released in stages, ending with the release, on the orders of the High Court, of 10 detainees still held five days after the arrests. No charges had been brought against the conference participants by the end of the year.
In January, Lim Guan Eng, deputy leader of the opposition Democratic Action Party, went on trial charged under the Sedition Act with "prompting disaffection with the administration of justice" and under the Printing Presses and Publication Act with publishing "false news" (see Amnesty International Report 1996). His trial was adjourned in March pending a judicial ruling on the standard of proof required in all criminal cases. In July, the Federal Court ruled that a judge must be satisfied that the prosecution had proved its case "beyond a reasonable doubt" before calling on the accused to make his defence, rather than the previous requirement of prima facie standard of evidence. When Lim Guan Eng's trial resumed in October the judge ruled that the prosecution had in fact proved "beyond reasonable doubt" that the defence had a case to answer on both charges. In December, the government introduced a bill amending the Criminal Procedures Code to restore the prima facie standard of evidence requirement. The trial had not concluded by the end of the year. If convicted, Lim Guan Eng faces imprisonment and disqualification from parliament.
In June, Irene Fernandez, director of the non-governmental organization Tenaganita (Women's Force), went on trial charged under the Printing Presses and Publication Act with maliciously publishing "false news" in a 1995 report on conditions in camps for detained migrant workers (see Amnesty International Report 1996). Tenaganita's report detailed a pattern of abuses in the camps, including ill-treatment and sexual abuse, denial of medical care and deaths caused by malnutrition and treatable illnesses. If convicted, Irene Fernandez faces up to three years' imprisonment or a fine, or both. The trial continued at the end of the year.
In April, the Ministry of Home Affairs stated that 71 detainees had died in migrant worker detention camps since 1992 but claimed that these deaths were due to the detainees' poor state of health when apprehended. A government visitors' panel set up in September 1995 to examine conditions in the camps did not have the authority to investigate past deaths and had not made public its findings by the end of the year.
Caning, a form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, was imposed as an additional punishment to imprisonment throughout the year. In February, Yusof Rahim was jailed for six and a half years and received 10 strokes of the cane for possession of cannabis.
During the year at least six people were sentenced to death and at least three executed. Most had been convicted of drug-trafficking offences, for which the death sentence is mandatory. Mustaffa Kamal Abdul Aziz and Mohd Radi Abdul Majid were executed in January after being convicted in 1991 of drug-trafficking. In January, Amnesty International urged the government to drop the charges against Lim Guan Eng and to allow him to peacefully express his political opinion and represent his constituents' views without fear of imprisonment. In May, Amnesty International expressed concern that Irene Fernandez had been charged in connection with her peaceful human rights activities and called for charges against her to be withdrawn. The organization repeated its call for a full public inquiry into poor conditions and past deaths in migrant worker detention camps. In August, the organization urged that former Al Arqam members detained without trial be charged with a recognizably criminal offence or else released. In November, the organization called for the immediate release of those detained for peacefully participating in the international conference on East Timor. In December, the organization called on the government to lift threats to use the isa to prevent a forum being held on alleged abuses of police powers. Throughout the year Amnesty International appealed to the authorities to end the punishment of caning and to commute all death sentences.