KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 10 — Several civil rights activists have lamented the hostility they get for questioning Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s actions on the Kelantan child bride issue, likening it to the previous administration’s treatment.
Dubbed “ultra-liberal” by PKR’s Rafizi Ramli for their fervour and accused of being single-minded, the activists highlighted the backlash against civil society from Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders now that they are in power.
“Here I thought I was multi-faceted, embraced all child rights issues affecting the poor and marginalised. I don’t know about the poor? I’ve worked with the poor for 37 years.
“And aren’t you supposed to keep hammering at an issue till you break it down, understand it and solve it? How’s that an ultra-liberal agenda?” Yayasan Chow Kit and Voice of the Children co-founder Hartini Zainudin posted on her Twitter account.
In a series of tweets, she continued to say civil society works with lawmakers since the latter are responsible for administration and policies rather than their knowledge, and any criticism is not personal but to point out gaps in the system.
“Freezing us out because you don’t like what we say isn’t going to solve the problem. It’s petty and childish. Don’t you want to include us?
“To know what we think because we want to solve a common issue? How are you different from the last government?” she asked.
In an interview with Malay Mail, Rafizi had lambasted some members of civil society who had criticised Deputy Prime Minister and Women’s Minister Dr Wan Azizah over the perception that she is not doing enough to get child marriage banned.
The former Pandan MP had insisted PKR wants to ban child marriage and the issue was only a question of “process”, such as the need to amend state Islamic enactments and other legislation.
However, he also said the “ultra-liberals” were focusing purely on the child marriage issue, while Dr Wan Azizah had other responsibilities, especially looking after the well-being of the poor.
Meanwhile, Gayathry Venkiteswaran warned: “‘Ultra-liberals’, ‘extreme activists’, ‘very vocal social activists’ — dangerous labels, accusatory, and demonising critics and activists.
“Like Umno, externalising party contests to the rest of society,” she said, in reference to Rafizi, who is contesting his party’s deputy presidency.
“Apparently, there’s a monopoly on who knows what to do and how to serve the poor,” she added, in response to Hartini.
In addition, Sivananthi Thanenthiran, executive director of Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW), contrasted the backlash to Rafizi’s previous call to “not be afraid to criticise leaders”.
“Well, we are criticising Dr Wan Azizah for her indecision and inaction. She chose the women’s ministry. She needs to stand up for women and girls.
“Ending child marriage and reducing adolescent pregnancies is the lynchpin in achieving the demographic dividend. It’s basic development, not ultra-liberal, agenda. It’s in the #SDGs,” she said, referring to the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals.