NOVEMBER 3 — Today, one of the leading women human rights defenders in our country was charged under the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012. As current chairperson of the Bersih 2.0 movement, Maria Chin Abdullah’s only “crime” is refusing to be silenced by an arbitrary set of laws set up to curb our rights to freedom of speech, expression, and to assemble – rights which are guaranteed under the Federal Constitution.
Maria is a beacon of hope for many Malaysian both home and abroad. She has been pivotal in encouraging us to speak out in the face of injustice. She gives us the belief that in a democratic nation such as ours, we the people can peacefully demand for institutional reforms, for integrity and for accountability, as is our right as voters in Malaysia. She gave us, the citizens of Malaysia, an avenue for our rights to be heard. It is richly ironic that the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012, with its purported intention as stated in its preamble is “to protect the rights and freedoms of other persons”, is being used to try to silence the woman who led one of the largest peaceful assemblies in Malaysian history.
Margaret Sekkagya, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders to the United Nations, recently remarked on the “development of sophisticated forms of silencing the voices of human rights defenders… imposing a climate of fear and sending an intimidating message to society at large”, with women human rights defenders being especially at risk. Maria and Jannie Lasimbang, who was also charged under the Peaceful Assembly Act in relation to the Bersih 4 rally in Sabah, join the ranks of thousands of women human rights defenders worldwide who are being targeted by their governments for daring to challenge the status quo. Women such as Maria and Jannie play an important role in safeguarding democracy, and perhaps more importantly, making democratic rights accessible to the public at large. State repression of women human rights defenders will only lead to a further deterioration of civil rights and liberties in this country.
Laws such as the Sedition Act 1948, the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, and the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 should not be used to silence critics of the government. Instead of viewing women human rights defenders like Maria and Jannie as a threat to democracy, the government should recognise her work as a form of democracy in action. Instead the government should provide Malaysian human right defenders with a safe platform to carry on their work in reflecting the government’s commitment to rule of law and a healthy human rights environment in our country. As such, we call on the government to withdraw all charges against Maria and Jannie immediately, and to realise the protection of both human rights and human rights defenders in this country.