At meeting with Maria Chin, Ambiga, NGO leaders, Obama says US backs their ‘work’

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Source: The Malay Mail Online

Civil society activists sit down to a meeting with US President Barack Obama (right) at his hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, November 21, 2015. — Picture by Choo Choy May

Civil society activists sit down to a meeting with US President Barack Obama (centre) at his hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, November 21, 2015. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 21 — US President Barack Obama today expressed support for the efforts by civil society groups here, when he met leaders from several Malaysian organisations at the US embassy today.

In the rare meeting that included Bersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah, Negaraku patron Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, C4 director Cynthia Gabriel, and Nisha Ayub from the Justice for Sisters group, among others, Obama described Malaysia as a country with diverse faiths and cultures that will benefit from allowing a multitude of voices to be heard.

“Many of you civil society groups are concerned about any constrictions on civil liberties and civil rights, and also in expanding the boundaries of civil society so that people here in Malaysia and around the region are able to have their voices heard.

“We very much appreciate the work that they do. One of the reasons I want to meet with them is to send a clear message that the US stands behind the important work that they are doing on a day-to-day basis,” he said in opening statements at the meeting.

Obama stated that the US firmly believed that having a strong civil society was necessary to achieve more accountable governance, and that it was his country’s policy to meet leaders of such groups during his trips abroad.

He also described Malaysia as make remarkable advances in the areas of freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly, among others.

Other Malaysian representatives at the meeting included Bar Council chairman Steven Thiru, IDEAS president Tunku Zain Al-Abidin Ibni Tuanku Muhriz, and Good Shepherd executive director Teresa Symons.

US officials in attendance were National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Deputy National Security Advisor Benjamin J. Rhodes, US ambassador Joseph Yun, and Daniel Russel the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

The meeting was conducted in private.

Obama arrived in Malaysia yesterday to take part in the Asean Summit and will depart tomorrow.