KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 15 ― Over 40 civil society groups urged Putrajaya today to cease harassing them over foreign funding, saying they had the same right as businesses and governments to receive such monies.
The 44 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) submitted a memorandum today to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Paul Low, who is in charge of governance, integrity, and human rights, and to Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed.
“We wish to state categorically that as members of civil society, which may from time to time voice our concerns about public affairs, we are not ‘traitors’ to the nation,” the NGOs said in the memorandum.
“Dissenters ought not be treated as enemies of the state. For a true parliamentary democracy to exist, we must be free to voice our concerns.
“As civil society groups which advocate for transparency and accountability, we remind the government that our accounts are made available through the filing of yearly returns,” they added.
The groups expressed concern over the arrest of Bersih 2.0 chair Maria Chin Abdullah under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, the police raids at Bersih’s and Empower’s offices, as well as Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s announcement at the recent Umno general assembly that a special taskforce would be formed to investigate organisations that receive foreign funding, allegedly to topple the government.
“Allegations that such funding are used to topple the government are preposterous. Funding of civil society activities in areas of education, advocacy, monitoring and campaigning for strengthening of our democratic process are legitimate activities,” they said.
They pointed out that local NGOs who voiced criticism of public affairs often found it difficult to do local fundraising because both individuals and corporations were fearful of repercussions.
“Statements discouraging support have been made by the authorities from time to time. Government funding is rarely available to NGOs that have openly voiced criticism of the government and its work,” they said.
The civil society groups stressed that the Federal Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of association, a right that they said not only encompassed the freedom to form or join any associations, but also to seek and receive resources, both domestic and foreign.
“We urge the government to respect the role that civil society plays in our country’s democracy and in nation building. We also urge the government to stop the harassment of activists and NGOs through threats of arrests, raids and seizures. NGOs have the same rights as businesses and government to receive foreign funding, and should not be stigmatised for it,” they said.
Some of the NGOs behind the memorandum include women’s rights group Empower, and human rights groups Lawyers for Liberty and the National Human Rights Society (Hakam).