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Amnesty International Australia

06/24/2024 | News release | Distributed by Public on 06/23/2024 23:18

Stop crackdown on Bajau Laut people

24 June 2024

Amnesty International Malaysia condemns the detention of eight Bajau Laut stateless, Indigenous students, at least three of whom are children. The students were arrested following a peaceful protest outside the Sabah Chief Minister's office on 14 June and were released today after seven days in detention.

"The eight Bajau Laut students were held unjustifiably in police lock-up for seven days. These students, including children, were victims of blatant discrimination due to their identities as stateless persons and members of an ethnic minority. Though we are relieved they are now free, it is alarming they were arrested in the first place," said Katrina Jorene Maliamauv, Executive Director of Amnesty International Malaysia.

On 14 June, groups including students and non-governmental organisations held a peaceful demonstration, dubbed #KamiMahuAir (#WeWantWater) outside the Chief Minister's office in Kota Kinabalu, calling for improved water access for students at the University of Malaysia Sabah.

Sixteen people were reportedly arrested after the demonstration, but only the eight students and their teacher were held on remand in detention. The students, who attend an alternative school for stateless students in Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, and Semporna as they are denied access to state education, were held under the Immigration Act 1959/63. Their teacher, a Malaysian citizen, was released after two days in detention.

"Targeting stateless students for peacefully demonstrating is a direct attack on the right to freedom of expression and assembly. That they were detained for immigration offences is a cruelly vindicative act. Instead of suppressing peaceful protest, the Sabah state government should facilitate public demonstrations and focus their attention on the issue the protesters were seeking to highlight that is a concern to all in Sabah-access to water."

The detention of the students followed the eviction of Indigenous Bajau Laut people from their communities in Semporna, Sabah earlier this month. The Bajau Laut are a sea-faring community denied citizenship resulting in little access to basic services including state education, water, healthcare, and employment. As a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Malaysia's treatment of stateless children violates its international legal obligations. Malaysia must also fulfill its obligations to recognise and protect Indigenous rights as part of its adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples since 2007.

"The eviction of scores of Bajau Laut people from their homes and the waters which their livelihoods depend on is deeply alarming. This crackdown by the government on the Bajau Laut is indefensible and must end immediately."

"For years, stateless persons in Malaysia including the Bajau Laut have been denied access to citizenship, basic services and been subject to immigration clampdowns by the authorities. The systematic discrimination against stateless people and Indigenous persons by the government violates the obligations of the state to protect the rights and dignity of all people - their fundamental rights to life, to protest, to access clean water, to live in dignity, must be respected, protected and fulfilled."