After years of campaigning by advocacy groups, stalking will finally be criminalized in Malaysia, after an anti-stalking bill was passed this week.
On Monday, the Dewan Rakyat, the lower house in Malaysia’s parliament, green-lit legislation that would criminalize repeated acts of harassment that don’t necessarily involve physical aggression, such as following a person, attempting to communicate with them, loitering at their home, or giving them items unsolicited. With an amendment to the penal code, acts deemed to be stalking will be punishable by up to three years in jail, a fine, or both.
“I’m sure from now on [that] those who are vulnerable and in need of better protections will get them, and I want to thank all of those who offered their input,” Mas Ermieyati Samsudin, Deputy Minister for Parliament and Law in the Prime Minister’s Department, said on Monday. “There are many incidents where the perpetrator got away with it but with this amendment, we can prevent that.”
For activists who have been campaigning for an anti-stalking law for close to a decade, the recent development is a long time coming. Women’s Aid Organisation, a nongovernmental organization tackling violence against women, said that it first approached authorities to discuss criminalizing stalking in 2014.
“We’ve had a lot of comments that it’s surprising that [Malaysia] didn’t have anti-stalking legislation, because it seems like something that we should have had a long time ago,” Louise Tan, the head of campaigns at Women’s Aid Organisation, told VICE World News.
She added that the parliamentary debate on the bill demonstrated lawmakers’ “recognition of the trauma that stalking survivors go through.”
The passage of the bill comes amid increasing public scrutiny in Malaysia on the lack of safeguards for targets of stalkers, following several high-profile reports of brutal violence against women that have escalated from stalking.
Last year, a 31-year-old woman was stabbed to death in the city of Ipoh by her boyfriend in front of her young children. Prior to her death, she had lodged several police reports against the man for breaking into her home and harassing her. He was arrested just once for trespassing and continued showing up at her house after his release.
In 2017, a man fatally shot his ex-wife before killing himself in a Kuala Lumpur law firm, following an argument at the woman’s office. She had also lodged a police report against him before, though it’s unclear if the police acted on this.
Weak legislation means Malaysian police rarely intervene in stalking cases in the absence of physical violence, despite the potential for escalation and the psychological toll of such harassment on survivors. One Malaysian woman told Reuters that her stalker had cost her two jobs and a business as he followed her to work and hounded her with daily phone calls. When victims approach authorities for help, they say that their cases are often dismissed as domestic conflicts instead of criminal acts.
Tan said that in the absence of an anti-stalking law, such incidents have been treated by law enforcement as separate offenses, instead of a continuous pattern of stalking.
“[Victims] would need to lodge multiple reports over multiple platforms, and each incident would only be evaluated on its own merits,” she said. “Rarely do they get the chance to show the totality of all the acts committed against them.”
Malaysia joins a minority of countries in Asia that have legislation criminalizing stalking on their books. India identified stalking as a crime in 2013 along with a set of new anti-rape laws, while Singapore did the same in 2014 with the introduction of an anti-harassment law. Last year, Japan strengthened its anti-stalking laws to broaden the scope of offending acts, which now include installing GPS tracking devices on targets’ cars and harassing them via written letters.
For almost a decade, women’s rights groups in Malaysia like the Women’s Aid Organisation have been trying to raise public awareness on the dangers of stalking. According to a 2020 report by the group, over a third of Malaysians and 39 percent of women had experienced stalking that left them fearing for their safety, while 17 percent were injured by their stalkers.
In 2019, the government formed an anti-stalking committee consisting of government agencies, rights groups, and survivors of stalking. But progress on criminalizing the act has been sluggish, despite authorities saying that an anti-stalking bill would be tabled in parliament late last year.
The bill was tabled for a first reading in August before being passed in the Dewan Rakyat this week. It will need to be passed in the upper house, the Dewan Negara, before being signed into law by the King of Malaysia.
But following unanimous agreement on the bill in the lower house on Monday, it now seems a mere formality that stalking will be designated a crime in Malaysia.
“It will be one more thing that [stalking survivors] have in order to access protection from their stalkers,” Tan said. “We hope that if the survivors can access that, it will give them more peace of mind. Because currently all the actions that they take to protect themselves are through their own means.”