Saturday, December 09, 2017

Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia Message on International Human Rights Day

9 December, 2017
Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia
Message on International Human Rights Day

As Malaysia joins the world in commemorating International Human Rights Day on December 10, perhaps this is a good time to reflect on our own human rights record. This year, Human Rights Day will kick off a year-long campaign to mark the upcoming 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was proclaimed on 10th December 1948. 

Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM), a coalition of 27 NGOs of diverse background, is sad to note that the past year has not seen any significant improvement of the human rights in Malaysia. To list all the violations of human rights in Malaysia in 2017 would probably take too much space, however the experience of various GBM’s member organisations in the past year is enough to illustrate the sad state of human rights in Malaysia. 

On 21st February 2017, Lena Hendry, a former programme coordinator of Pusat KOMAS, a member organisation of GBM, who was charged with airing the documentary “No Fire Zone” in a Pusat KOMAS’s event in 2013 without the approval from Malaysian Censorship Board, was found guilty under Film Censorship Act 2002 and on 22nd March 2017 she was sentenced to pay a fine of RM10,000. The documentary touches upon the alleged war crime against the Tamil community in Sri Lankan civil war. 

The case reflected the growing threat against the freedom of expression in Malaysia. It also set a dangerous precedent that it is now unlawful for people to document and screen videos without sending their videos to the Film Censorship Board for approval.  

On 24th May 2017, three activists from Citizen Action Group on Enforced Disappearance (CAGED) – Sevan Doraisamy, Thomas Fann and Rama Ramanathan – was questioned by the police following an order by the then Inspector General, Khalid Abu Bakar through his Twitter posting. CAGED is a coalition of NGOs that aim to monitor cases of enforced disappearance in Malaysia following the mysterious abductions of Pastor Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat, and the disappearance of Pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife, Ruth. Rama was representing Bersih 2.0 while Sevan and Thomas were respectively representing SUARAM and ENGAGE, which are member organisations of GBM. 

The National Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM) has formed a public inquiry into the allegations of enforced disappearances, which is still on-going. These cases of suspected enforced disappearances is a worrying trend that has emerged in 2017 and added to the already bloated  list of human rights’ concern in Malaysia. 

On 16th August 2017, Ho Yock Lin, former president of All Women Action Society (AWAM), a member organisation of GBM focusing on women’s rights and Ivy Josiah, a women’s rights activist, were questioned by the police for their involvement in the “Free Maria” walk. The Free Maria walk was held on 23rd November 2016 where more than 500 women marched from Padang Merbok to the Parliament building, demanding Maria Chin Abdullah, the Chair of Bersih 2.0, to be released from detention under Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma) for her role in the organising of Bersih 5 rally. 

The questioning, which was held nine months after the event, was another example of assault against freedom of assembly, which was ironic considering that the walk itself was intended as a protest against the police’s detention of Maria which was itself another example of attack on the freedom of assembly as well as an example of the abuse a law which provided for detention without trial. 

Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), another member organisation of GBM, has also became a victim of the narrowing space of human rights in Malaysia. In 2017, several books published or distributed by the organisation have been banned by the Home Ministry under the Printing Presses and Publication Act.  On 25th September 2017 Mustafa Akyol, a respected international scholar on Islam, who was invited as a speaker for a series of talks on Islam organised by IRF, was briefly detained and questioned by the police and the religious authority JAWI for allegedly teaching Islam without official credential. Dr. Ahmad Farouk Musa, Chairman and Director of IRF was questioned by JAWI on 2nd October 2017 under Section 43 of the Shariah Offences Act 1997 (Federal Territories) for allegedly abetting with Mustafa Akyol. 

Considering all these depressing developments, it is hard to be optimistic with the state of human rights in Malaysia for the year 2018 and beyond. However, we do not have the luxury of giving up or slowing down. 

As the world marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 2018, and Malaysia to have its 14th General Election, Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia urges all Malaysians to stop this rot by taking up the cause of human rights. We must stand firm and strive hard for a Malaysia that is united by human rights and human dignity, which should demonstrate these characteristics:

·         Freedoms of thought, speech, assembly and association, and by extension religious, linguistic and cultural inclusion, protected from both state and private encroachment;;

·         Governments chosen through free and fair elections, with effective mechanisms to curb distortion of electoral mandate and under-representation of women and minorities;

·         Impartiality and integrity of Judiciary, Attorney General’s Chambers, Bureaucracy, Police, Military and all other unelected public institutions; 

·         Socio-economic inclusion and sustainable development to ensure everyone can live with basic needs fulfilled, equal opportunity to pursue life goals and dignity.

Only a Malaysia where everyone’s right as human is guaranteed, can we have sustainable unity, prosperity and stability. 

Issued by
Zaid Kamaruddin,
Chair, Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia

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