Malaysian lawyers have sustained serious injuries at the hands of police, suffered assaults and intimidation, and are routinely denied access to detained clients, an investigation has found.
Their representative body is also under threat, with a government minister planning an alternative to the Bar Council of Malaysia, which the minister says ‘should dissolve itself’.
Allegations of oppression by the Malaysian authorities appear in a joint submission to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the Law Society and Netherlands-based Lawyers for Lawyers (L4L).
The UPR is a United Nations initiative to improve human rights in each of its 193 member states.
Every four years, each member state undergoes a review of its compliance with human rights and a list of voluntary pledges and recommendations is drawn up. Midway between reviews, the member state details progress.
Malaysia is currently undergoing its UPR and reports, gathered by lawyers in the country and bodies such as the Law Society, reveal a widespread failure to comply with the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.
The submission says that article 1 of the Basic Principles, ensuring the right to call upon the assistance of a lawyer, has been curtailed.
Lawyers were denied access to between 388 and 513 people arrested during a protest in April 2012, while in unrelated cases some individuals were detained for two weeks without seeing a lawyer.
Attempting to dissolve the Bar Council of Malaysia appears to breach article 24 of the principles, which says ‘lawyers shall be entitled to form and join self-governing professional associations to represent their interests… without external interference’.