Suaram returns Isma fire, claims group trying to scupper human rights fight

Malaysian youths wave national flags during the National Day celebrations marking the 56th anniversary of the country’s independence in Kuala Lumpur August 31, 2013. — Reuters pic
Malaysian youths wave national flags during the National Day celebrations marking the 56th anniversary of the country’s independence in Kuala Lumpur August 31, 2013. — Reuters pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 12 — Amid a fiery row over human rights in Malaysia, a social advocacy group has accused an Islamist activist group of trying to silence its attempts to highlight violations in the country.

Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), among 54 non-governmental organisations alleged by Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) to be challenging Islam’s position in the country and by extension the nation’s sovereignty, reprimanded the latter group, telling it to respect the work of human rights defenders, which it insisted were also guaranteed by the Federal Constitution.

“Isma is finding a way to make us quiet about human rights violation in the country, for us not to raise any concern about human rights in Malaysia,” Suaram’s executive director, E. Nalini, told The Malay Mail Online yesterday.

“They should respect the work of human rights defenders in Malaysia,” she added.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak called on the country’s “silent majority” to drown out the voices of extremism, but without specifically naming groups.

He said diversity should be celebrated and the right to co-exist should be defended.

“We cannot afford to allow voices of extremism to dominate the political discourse.

“It is time for the silent majority to drown out the calls to violence, to reject extremism.

“We should not be cowed or held to ransom by elements that prefer to pursue their political goals and grievances outside the accepted norms of civilised society,” he said during his keynote address at the Asian Peace and Reconciliation Council/ ISIS Malaysia: Dialogue on Diversity, Diplomacy and Peace here at the Marriott Hotel.

Isma has been at the forefront of attempts to discredit the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in the Universal Periodic Review Process (Comango) — of which Suaram is a member — which has also come under fire from other Muslim activists here who claim the group’s human rights recommendations to the United Nations ran counter to the “true” teachings of Islam and the sovereignty of the Federal Constitution.

Isma, which has since signed on with a coalition of Muslim NGOs called MuslimUPRo, also accused Comango of attempting to spread “liberalism teachings” backed by Western powers.

As part of its campaign, Isma distributed 70,000 leaflets at mosques throughout the country after Friday prayers last week, accusing Comango for calling for the freedom to renounce Islam; the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) rights; the removal of Malay privileges; the freedom to embrace Shiah teachings; and the right for Catholics to refer to God as “Allah”, among others.

Comango has fielded the allegations, saying its report was merely an effort to encourage Malaysia to prove its commitment towards improving the lot of all Malaysians via the UPR.

“Every freedom that we are talking about is guaranteed in the Federal Constitution. Which part of it we are going against, I don’t understand,” Nalini said.

She also explained that Comango’s member groups was using the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR)’s mechanism to report on the human rights situation in the country.

“We feel that is our obligation to promote and protect human rights and highlight violations of human rights,” she said, saying that Comango does not only complain but also provides suggestions for the improvement of the human rights situation in Malaysia.

Isma had alleged that 54 NGOs that were “anti-Islam” including Suaram were supporting Comango, claiming that the coalition’s demands were against Islam and threatened the sovereignty of the Federal Constitution.

But Nalini said that the “anti-Islam” allegations were “untrue and uncalled for”, saying: “We respect every religion in Malaysia”.

Nalini urged Isma to retract its “anti-Islam” label on Suaram, as well as withdraw its previous claims against the advocacy group, which she said contained incorrect facts.

She refuted Isma’s allegation of several personalities working as “masterminds” behind Comango, saying the coalition of 60 organisations operated by consensus.

She also pointed out that Suaram’s board member, Cynthia Gabriel, and director, Kua Kia Soong, were not Comango’s “masterminds” as alleged by Isma, saying that the latter had made assumptions that were “totally wrong”.

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