Civil society, free press important for country to thrive, Obama tells Najib

Local civil society activists sit down to a meeting with US President Barack Obama (right) at his hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, November 21, 2015. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Local civil society activists sit down to a meeting with US President Barack Obama (right) at his hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, November 21, 2015. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 22 — A developed civil society and free press are important markers that reflect the development of a country, US President Barack Obama said today.

The world leader said he has emphasised the importance of civil society and press to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, after a rare meeting here yesterday with some of Malaysia’s civil society leaders and voiced the US government’s support for their work.

“I also emphasised to PM Najib the importance of civil society and free press,” he told a news conference during the Asean Summit here.

He added that while the US does not expect every country to follow its standards, a certain basic level should be met.

“Every country here has different levels and stages of development both socially and economically.

“We don’t expect that everybody follows the same pattern the US does, but there are some basic principles that are important for us to uphold, as friends and partners to the countries that we are talking to,” he said.

Obama has described Malaysia as a country with diverse faiths and cultures that will benefit from allowing a multitude of voices to be heard, after meeting several prominent civil society activists, including National Human Rights Society president Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, electoral reforms watchdog chief Maria Chin Abdullah, anti-graft group C4 director Cynthia Gabriel, and Nisha Ayub from the Justice for Sisters group.

“Many of you civil society groups are concerned about any constrictions on civil liberties and civil rights, and also in expanding the boundaries of civil society so that people here in Malaysia and around the region are able to have their voices heard.

“We very much appreciate the work that they do. One of the reasons I want to meet with them is to send a clear message that the US stands behind the important work that they are doing on a day-to-day basis,” he said in opening statements at the meeting yesterday.

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