International Humanist and Ethical Union
40th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (25th February – 22nd March 2019)
We note that Malaysia has partially accepted recommendations from Brazil and the USA on protecting the right to free expression online. We were astounded however, that it should reject Albania’s modest recommendation that it “take measures to fully guarantee the right to freedom of religion and belief”
The rights to free expression and freedom of religion or belief allow for criticism of religious beliefs and ideas. This was confirmed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief in his most recent report to the Council.
Articles 295-298A of the Malaysian Penal Code provide penalties for those who commit offenses against religion. The penalties include up to three years in prison or a large fine. Prosecutions for blasphemy usually target those who offend Islam, but an insult to any religion can give rise to prosecution.
Last week, Alister Cogia was sentenced to almost 11 years imprisonment for blasphemy on social media, via his “Ayea Yea” Facebook account. Three others are being held without bail while awaiting trial for the same charges for “insulting Islam and the Prophet”. Mohamad Yazid Kong Abdullah, owner of the “Yazid Kong” Facebook account, pleaded guilty after he was charged in the Criminal Sessions Court. Chow Mun Fai, operating a Twitter account, faces eight charges. Danny Antoni, pleaded not guilty to two charges in relation to his personal Facebook account. In a statement about the cluster of cases, Inspector-General of Police Fuzi Harun advised the public not to abuse social media by uploading or sharing any form of provocation touching on religious or racial sensitivities.
Human rights law is clear: There is no prohibition on the questioning, criticising or mocking of ideas and beliefs. Human rights protect individuals not their ideologies.
Accordingly, we urge Malaysia to reconsider its rejection of those recommendations calling for the right to freedom of religion or belief to be protected in the country and call on it to repeal laws criminalising blasphemy.
We also urge the immediate overturning of the sentence against Alister Cogia and the release of the aforementioned men currently being held in custody.
 A/HRC/40/11, §151.129
'UPR statement on Malaysia', Humanists International