KUALA LUMPUR: Amnesty International (AI) has launched a campaign to support “oppressed” activists to push for more effective implementation of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
The campaign, known as Brave, is meant to empower, protect and support global human rights defenders in the face of rampant arrests.
AI-Malaysia’s executive director Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu said Brave would push for the government to put the human rights declaration into practice.
“It’s time the government fulfils what they had promised earlier when they declared they acknowledged the role of human rights activists and the need to protect them,” she said at a press conference after the launch of the campaign.
The declaration provides specific protection for human rights defenders in the context of their work, including the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.
In November 2015, the Malaysian government voted in favour of a UN general assembly resolution on recognising the role of human rights defenders and the need for their protection, affirming its commitment to refrain from intimidation or punishments against such individuals.
“We have specific calls for the Malaysian government and we hope they will consider this matter seriously, considering that Malaysia is vying for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council for the 2018-2020 term,” Shamini said.
She alleged the authorities were mistreating more activists nowadays in efforts to silence them.
She added that Malaysian human rights activists had been put under pressure and repeatedly investigated and charged under repressive laws.
“In Malaysia, a wide range of repressive laws have been used to investigate and criminally charge many human rights activists and other government critics.
“In recent years, Bersih’s Maria Chin Abdullah and other activists were ‘assaulted’ with laws for organising and participating in demonstrations.”
Such oppression is against the declaration which was agreed upon, she added.
Shamini said the Brave campaign would seek to repeal or amend legislation that might hinder activities such as the promotion of human rights, which include the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
She said it would also effectively address threats and harassment against activists and prompt independent investigations into any case of human rights violations or abuse.
“The campaign will help in ensuring that the justice system is not misused to target or harass activists.”
Maria and cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, also known as Zunar, were present at the launch along with Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) activist Amir Abdul Hadi, Suaram executive director Sevan Doraisamy and many others.
Maria, who heads the Bersih 2.0 coalition, said such campaigns need support from the public, especially locals, in order to succeed.
“The campaign alone is not enough. We need more Malaysians to actually band up and take action because only in numbers will our government listen to us,” she said.
Amir added that such campaigns would address the authorities’ suppression of human rights activists as there was currently no mechanism to protect these individuals.
Meanwhile, Sevan said global cases involving the violation of activists’ rights signalled the need to claim justice for them.
“Other cases happening globally are symbols of the need to fight against injustices.
“This is similar to what is happening here, where Maria was detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) for leading a peaceful protest.”
On Nov 18 last year, Maria was arrested following a raid at the Bersih office in Petaling Jaya. The raid took place less than 24 hours before the Bersih 5 gathering in Kuala Lumpur, which saw tens of thousands take to the streets to demand a clean administration and free and fair elections.
Maria was arrested under Section 124C of the Penal Code for activities “detrimental to parliamentary democracy”.
She was also held under Sosma, which many other activists term as a “draconian law”.