Global Human Rights Federation wants end to clamping down on social activists

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GHRF Malaysia deputy president Peter John Jaban reminded the authorities that this kind of scare tactic is not acceptable in a functioning democracy. – Photo via Facebook/Peter John Jaban

KUCHING (Aug 25): Global Human Rights Federation (GHRF) Malaysia wants the federal government to stop the clamping down on social activists in the name of freedom of speech.

The case in point is the treatment of two activists Arun Dorasamy and Shashi Kumar, who were called up by Bukit Aman Police to answer questions about a video they posted online over religion and conversion.

GHRF Malaysia deputy president Peter John Jaban, in a statement, reminded the authorities that this kind of scare tactic is not acceptable in a functioning democracy.

He urged Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to stand by his promises of ‘Reformasi’ (reformation) and multicultural, representative government.

“The problem with politicians is that they all call for change until it is inconvenient to them. Our Prime Minister needs to remember that it was activists who kept his situation in the public eye when he was being persecuted by the government of that time.

“It was the activists who campaigned for his release from prison. It was activists who went down to the streets, who rallied the people and raised the issues which put him into the position of power he enjoys today, sometimes at great cost to themselves,” he reminded.

“Activists might be inconvenience to him on this issue, but we are effective and an essential part of the democratic process,” he added.

Peter pointed out that freedom of expression is the reason that Anwar is the Prime Minister today, and if Anwar does not intend to enshrine their role as a key tenet of his new government, then he will have made no substantial change at all.

“Prime Minister Anwar should be empowering the press; he should be supporting activists; he should be allowing open dialogue. Only then can Malaysia become the mature democracy that it deserves to be.

“It is through (public) debate that all sides can be represented. It is through constructive criticism that politicians gauge the will of the people from all sides. Quelling dissent only leads to an ignorant and out of touch government.

“Our Prime Minister needs to accept the critique and address it. That is the nature of public service. He needs to remember that he represents his office. He represents Malaysia as a nation,” he stressed.

As the prime minister of a purportedly secular government, Anwar cannot allow himself to be seen converting a young Hindu man on camera, regardless of his personal beliefs and religious practice, Peter argued.

Even worse, he cannot expect to curry favour with one sector of the voting public by doing so and then suppressing outrage from another to maintain his position, he said.

“Politics is perception, and he has been long enough in the game to know this. He has made this a political act by performing this conversion in public.

“If this is the police working on their own under an SOP that remains from a previous time, this is the perfect time for Anwar to take a stand. This kind of action was the hallmark of the old Malaysia, and lessons were not easily unlearned. But, in this case, lessons trickle down from the top.

“The police were attempting to seize Shashi’s phone in what was clearly a fishing expedition and an abuse of power against a man who had not been charged with any crime or indeed committed one.

“Thankfully, he knows his rights, another product of the existence and actions of activists through the decades.”

Anwar, Peter said, needs to learn from this event and to make sure that everyone who represents his administration does the same.

This is an opportunity, not a threat, Peter added.

“He needs to listen more than he talks, and he should separate his private life from political gain.

“Freedom of expression is an essential component of democracy and criticism, an inevitable product of a political life,” he stressed.