Sexual harassment in the workplace: More than 30 Malaysian civil societies call for zero tolerance in wake of allegations against IRF activist

File picture of office workers having lunch in front of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.  ― Reuters pic
File picture of office workers having lunch in front of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. ― Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, July 10 ― More than 30 local civil society organisations (CSO) say they are standing in solidarity with all sexual harassment survivors today, following allegations involving a senior director of think tank Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) this week.

The groups, under a coalition called CSO Platform for Reform, said they are very concerned about the allegations and affirmed their zero tolerance of sexual harassment at the workplace.

“It could be imputed that organisations which knowingly allow or tolerate sexual harassment, including by failing to take immediate action, are, in fact, condoning or deemed complicit in allowing the perpetuation of this culture of harassment and violence.

“This is a watershed moment for us to transform organisational culture, take a stand in solidarity, provide the necessary platform for all those who do come forward and break the silence so that perpetrators are held to account,” said the groups.

They also pledged to ensure that all of them have an effective sexual harassment policy in place, while committing towards creating a safe and conducive working environment for all in their respective organisations and within the larger movement.

They also reiterated the call by the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) for these allegations to be taken seriously and for an independent investigation to be initiated by IRF and necessary action taken if the alleged perpetrator is found guilty.

“The findings from said investigation, on the other hand, should be made public by IRF in the interest of transparency and due process,” they said.

“Confidentiality should also be maintained, and the alleged survivor be provided the necessary support as well as be protected from any form of intimidation or retaliation.”

They also urged for quick and fair investigation when there is knowledge of such misconduct, even without any written or formal complaint, in addition to measures to prevent retaliation and any recurrence of the incidents.

The statement was undersigned by 33 groups including Bersih 2.0, Socialist Party of Malaysia, Suara Rakyat Malaysia, Association of Women Lawyers, Centre for Independent Journalism, Center to Combat Corruption & Cronyism, Justice for Sisters, and Women’s Aid Organisation.

Yesterday, Malay Mail quoted three former members about the sexual harassment they allegedly faced from one of the think tank’s directors, with one of them lodging a police report about the alleged sexual assault.

Malay Mail also spoke with four other activists involved with IRF over the past eight years, and three admitted hearing rumours and complaints of sexual impropriety during their time with the think tank, including two specific instances that cannot be verified yet.

In a reply to media organisations yesterday, the alleged perpetrator said he is a victim of a “concerted effort” to tarnish his name, and he welcomes the investigation since it would be an opportunity for him to clear his reputation.

Formed in 2009, IRF describes itself as a movement to empower youth and promote Muslim intellectual discourse, and has advanced local discourse involving Islam and the enforcement of Shariah laws in Malaysia through its events, talks and commentaries.

This comes as police said a 56-year-old activist and NGO leader had been apprehended yesterday for questioning in relation to a report lodged against him for alleged sexual harassment that happened in November last year.

The case is being investigated under Section 354 of the Penal Code for assault or use of criminal force to a person with intent to outrage modesty, and he has since been released on bail

On Tuesday, JAG urged lRF to initiate an independent investigation into the allegations after four of IRF activists publicly dissociated themselves from the group as long as the director remains.

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