PRESIDENT’S REPORT FOR 2016/2017 — Ambiga Sreenevasan

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PRESIDENT’S REPORT FOR THE AGM 2016/2017 [26th AGM]

Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan – Pic by Choo Choy May

It has been 29 years since HAKAM was first formed to confront human rights abuses that were rampant and to uphold the rule of law.  Today, our struggle continues as we face a whole host of new challenges that require civil society to continue to be vocal on human rights issues.

On 8 December 2016, Malaysia was labelled one of the worst regional freedom of thought violators, alongside Indonesia and Brunei, by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU).

Malaysia is ranked at 144 in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

The 1MDB case continues to tarnish the reputation of Malaysia internationally, and there has been little done at home to address this global scandal and to bring those responsible to book.

Our fundamental freedoms are increasingly curtailed. The last year has seen more repressive laws come into force, our media under attack, and social media facing severe restrictions.

Numerous persons, both activists and politicians have been hauled in for investigation, under the Sedition Act 1948 and Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 and some have been charged for making comments on social media.

In the year under review, the following events occurred, amongst others:-

  • On 19 November 2016, Maria Chin Abdullah was arrested under SOSMA, ahead of the Bersih 5 rally, making her the first activist to be held under security offences legislation at about the same time, many NGOs came under attack purportedly for receiving foreign funding.
  • The National Security Council Act 2016 came into force on 1 August 2016.
  • Cruel and degrading punishment of school children and in one instance resulting in death.
  • School/academic institution bullying resulting in three deaths to date. This matter requires urgent attention.
  • Further deaths in custody

All this illustrates the continuing need for the work of HAKAM.

 

Activities

The following were activities conducted in the year under review :-

  1. Workshop: “Leverage on Social Media for Impactful Social Change”, 16-17 July 2016

In other parts of the world, civil society leaders and organizations have realized the role of technology and social media in addressing community challenges. Acknowledging this, HAKAM embarked on a project to encourage Malaysian NGOs to effectively use social media for their causes through a capacity building workshop.

The workshop was conducted on 16-17 July 2016 at Capri by Fraser Kuala Lumpur, with the strategy to engage and partner with social media experts to train human rights activists, CSO representatives and volunteers. The workshop was attended by 49 participants from 36 organisations.

The workshop’s principal trainers were Ryan Lim and JolynSoo of Singapore-based QED Consulting Pte Ltd. On the second day of the workshop, Lau Chak Onn, Editor-in-Chief of Cilisos.my conducted an interactive session on the topic “What makes compelling content on social media?” His session was later extended to a one day workshop in March this year, based on participants’ feedback and interest (see item 5).

  1. Jom Tanya Saya/Ask Me Series, 17 & 25 August 2016 and 8 & 27 September 2016

Following the Social Media workshop, HAKAM embarked on a Facebook Live series to open up space for Malaysians to connect and have conversations. The Live streaming sessions are interviews where audiences pose their questions to HAKAM’s Facebook event page, or email them, and the interviewee answers them.

So far four sessions have been held, moderated by Mr Chacko Vadaketh. The interviewees have been Ambiga Sreenevasan on 17 August 2016 (reaching 10,746 people), Steven Thiru on 25 August 2016 (reaching 16,252 people), Marina Mahatir on 8 September 2016 (reaching 39,310 people) and Azmi Sharom on 27 September 2016 (reaching 24,500 people). We hope to continue the sessions, as they proved to be well-received by HAKAM’s Facebook audience.

  1. Tak Nak Diktator

HAKAM was part of the coalition of civil society organisations forming the Tak Nak Diktator coalition against the National Security Council Act 2017. Since the bill (now an Act) was introduced in 2015, the Tak Nak Diktator coalition has been in the forefront objecting against the passing of this bill in Parliament and in Senate. As part of the Tak Nak Diktator coalition, HAKAM, Lawyer’s for Liberty, Institut Rakyat, SUARAM, Amnesty International Malaysia, PROHAM, Bersih 2.0, C4, and IKRAM organised the National Security Council Conference on 18 August 2016. This initiative was to gather experts on the subject matter of security and terrorism from around the region to discuss the need and necessity for a law as dictatorial as the National Security Council Act 2016. The conference heard from eight panellists, and they are Ms Sidney Jones, Mr. Umar Mahmood Khan, Ms Emerlynne Gil, Dr Fathul Bari, Mr Nicholas Chan, Col Mohd Daud Sulaiman, Mr Andrew Khoo and Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan. The conference saw the participation of the public, academicians, politicians, members of the media and ambassadors.

  1. Monash/University of York Internship

As part of HAKAM’s continuing effort to engage the youth, we have entered into internship programmes with the University Malaya Law Students Society, Monash University Law Faculty and The University of York, for students to spend a maximum period of three months as interns at HAKAM. The first group of Monash students, Ms. Alyssa Lee, Ms Shyla Sivanas, and Mr. Evan Quick, came to Malaysia in February-March period. The first group of interns from University of York are expected to come in August. The experience has proved to be productive, for both HAKAM and the students.

HAKAM has been receiving an increasing numbers of applications from Malaysian students and we hope to continue youth engagement through volunteering and internship.

  1. Workshop: “Build and Develop Effective Engaging Content”

This workshop was a follow up, to the previous one conducted in July.

The workshop was conducted by Cilisos.my editor in chief, Chak Lau Onn, on 25 March 2017.  Twenty six participants from 18 NGOs attended the workshop. The workshop was an interactive experience, with a number of exercises to encourage the participants to create content, evaluate their efficiency and quality, and reflect on how to improve on a social media strategy for a better and more effective reach.

  1. #NetMerdeka

As a continuing program from 2015/2016 and due to the announcement, of potential, amendments to Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Act 1998, HAKAM has been involved in the #NetMerdeka coalition, to advocate greater internet freedom and to stand up against increasing restrictions to online activities.

As part of our involvement, HAKAM has assisted in the drafting of the People’s Principles for Internet Freedom, a charter to serve as a guide for Malaysians on what the basics rights of citizens and responsibilities of the government are with regard to online platforms and related services. The launch of the charter has been delayed and no new dates have been announced yet.

HAKAM has been maintaining a database of reported cases of arrest, prosecution and sentences for offences committed online, and the use of s.233 of the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Act 1998 and/or the Sedition Act 1948 to charge individuals for expressions on the said platforms.

  1. Memorandum to Datuk Paul Low and Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed

Following Maria Chin Abdullah’s arrest and the government’s announcements on the formation of a special taskforce to investigate organisations that receive foreign funding, HAKAM took the initiative to draft a Memorandum with the support of other NGOs.

The Memorandum “Civil Society demands that the Government stops harassing and stigmatizing NGOs” was endorsed by 44 NGOs, and handed to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Paul Low, who is in charge of governance, integrity, and human rights, and to Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed, on 15 Dec 2017, at a forum organised by IDEAS.  A copy of the memorandum is available on the HAKAM’s website.

  1. Building a presence on Social Media Platforms

HAKAM has been continuing with improving the website, www.hakam.org.my and our social media platform to improve our communication of human rights issues with the public.

  1. The following statements were issued :
  • 10 April 2017 – HAKAM Demands Action in Response to Recent Forced Disappearances
  • 21 December 2016 – Accusations of Foreign Intervention Unfounded
  • 17 November 2016 – Student Activism Should Be Encouraged. Freedom of Expression
  • 27 October 2016 – HAKAM Statement in Support of Students Participating in #TangkapMO1 Rally
  • 19 July 2016 – Declassify the Auditor General’s Report on 1MDB

 

Acknowledgement

HAKAM acknowledges and wishes to thank the American Bar Association for partnering with HAKAM and other CSOs in the Social Media Training, the National Security Council Conference, the NetMerdeka Project and the Abolish Sedition Act (GHAH) campaigns.

HAKAM would also like to record our appreciation to Mr. Chacko Vadaketh for his valuable time and for helping us make the Jom Tanya Saya/Ask Me Series.

I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Robyn, Justine and Alaleh who are entirely responsible for the activities for the year and for maintaining the HAKAM website.

 

Conclusion

HAKAM must move towards establishing a permanent secretariat given the work we undertake. For this, our fund raising activities must step up. We must also look to bringing into the membership and the Executive Committee more members who will take on leadership roles in the organisation.

 

Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan
President
National Human Rights Society Malaysia
HAKAM