KUALA LUMPUR, March 30 – Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, a vocal rights advocate, received today the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur (Knight in the Legion of Honour), the highest decoration awarded by the French government.
The daughter of former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was conferred the award by French ambassador Christophe Penot during the special ceremony at his residence in the capital, according to Sisters in Islam (SIS).
The Muslim women’s rights group said the 58-year-old Marina is one of only eight Malaysians to have received the award so far. She is also the second recipient from SIS to receive the honour, the first being its co-founder Zainah Anwar.
“I am very honoured that the French government recognizes the work of women human rights defenders in Malaysia because they are often under-appreciated,” SIS quoted Marina as saying in a statement on the award.
The group also congratulated Marina, who is a former SIS board member, saying the award is a recognition of her contribution to social and political activism in Malaysia.
SIS noted that Marina has many feathers in her cap from her days as president of the Malaysian AIDS Council, as well as her work defending gender equality and human rights.
The outspoken activist has also received other international accolades, SIS said, including being named Malaysian of the Year in 2010 by the United Nations in Malaysia, and as one of two Malaysians named by Women Deliver as one of the 100 Most Influential People working for Women and Girls.
“In the present climate where there appears to be a rift along the lines of religion and ethnicity, Marina reminds us all that we are united in our humanity.
“Through her writings, she speaks for the marginalised, disempowered and persecuted,” SIS said.
The Légion d’Honneur is France’s highest honour for military and civil merits. It consists of five degrees — Chevalier (Knight), Officier (Officer), Commandeur (Commander), Grand Officier (Grand Officer) and Grand'Croix (Grand Cross) — and is awarded to both French and foreigners for their services to France or to causes supported by the nation.
Some of the other Malaysian recipients of the Légion d’Honneur include Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin, the former Yang Di-Pertuan Agong and reigning Sultan of Terengganu and Ipoh-born actress Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh.