The theme of Human Rights Day 2016, “Stand up for someone’s rights today”, reminds us that despite the successes and progress of universal human rights in 68 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the struggle is not over.
In fact, it is relevant now more than ever as Malaysia weathers trying times with the unresolved 1MDB scandal, the persecution of civil society, and the oppression of regular Malaysian citizens.
During the 7-week BERSIH 5 convoy and rally recently, we had to fight for our right to assemble and associate freely while facing a string of harassment and intimidation from violent red-shirted UMNO gangsters as well as the police who sought to restrict our programmes.
In a pre-emptive crackdown to stop BERSIH 5, 16 activists and politicians, including BERSIH 2.0 chairperson, Maria Chin Abdullah, were arrested before and during the rally.
In one of the most recent and flagrant transgression of human rights, Maria was detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (or SOSMA). She was held in solitary confinement, which is nothing less than torture. To misuse an anti-terror legislation on a civil society leader cannot and must not be accepted in a free and democratic country as it opens the door to further abuse.
BERSIH 2.0 condemns the Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed’s remark on how Maria’s treatment follows standard operating procedures for detainees. We maintain that no person should ever be put through such a dehumanising and traumatic experience. It is extremely worrying that an individual of his standing sees nothing immoral about treating someone less than human.
While Maria has been released, the attack on NGOs have not stopped, serving as another distraction from the very real and pertinent issue of the government’s own dubious funding. Under the flimsy guise of foreign funding and conspiracy to topple the government, the authorities seem intent on stamping out civil society for good in a desperate bid to maintain their powers.
Civil society is concerned with championing human rights. For the authorities to continue attacking us for that shows that they are antagonistic towards the need and the fight for universal human rights.
On Human Rights Day 2016, BERSIH 2.0 demands the authorities stop the harassment and intimidation of NGOs. The government has a duty to protect the rights of its citizens, not punish them.
BERSIH 2.0 will be focussing our time and attention on voter registration in the run-up to GE14. We will not be cowed into fear or shut up by intimidation. We urge all Malaysians above 21 to register to vote and to encourage friends and family to do the same.
The power to change lies in our hands and we must exercise our right to choose leaders who will move Malaysia to a brighter future with the rakyat’s best interests in mind.
But for today, let us remember that human dignity lies at the heart of a free, just, and peaceful world.
Satukan Tenaga, Malaysia Baru.
Signed by the BERSIH 2.0 Steering Committee members