KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 18 — The authorities must take a firm stand on the death threats against civil rights activists that have also widened to include their families if it doesn’t want to be seen as tolerating extremism, a human rights coalition said today.
The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) said it was outraged at the death threats against prominent activist Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, Bersih 2.0’s chairman Maria Chin Abdullah and her three sons, and the electoral watchdog’s committee member Mandeep Karpall, stressing the need for impartial action to be taken.
“JAG calls on the Malaysian government, the Royal Malaysian Police Force, and other agencies to do their duty with conscientiousness and impartiality.
“Members of the Cabinet and political leaders from all parties, regardless of ideology, need to unequivocally condemn the violence and death threats,” the coalition said in statement.
According to JAG, the death threats were spread through a chat application in the form of digitally-altered photos, which depicted a black-clad masked man standing and holding a knife to the throats of six kneeling individuals.
In the photos reminiscent of terrorist group Islamic State’s (IS) hostage execution scenes, the digitally-altered images show shirts for the Bersih 5 rally superimposed on the six individuals that appear to look like the six named, JAG said.
The JAG said there has already been a series of violent incidents recently that targeted the organisers and supporters of the Bersih 5 rally, and even journalists covering the ongoing Bersih nationwide convoy ahead of the November 19 rally.
“These images mark a clear escalation of violence, with family members also being targeted with death threats,” the JAG said.
The JAG claimed that it was no accident that the degree of violence has intensified to this level, adding that it was “extremely worrying” as it claimed that political violence aimed at those with differing viewpoints or seen as being anti-government is “increasingly tolerated” in Malaysia, especially since the last general election.
It then reminded the federal government that it had backed a resolution last December in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly protect human rights defenders.
“Among other things, the resolution calls on accountability for attacks against human rights defenders and their families, and affirms the obligations of the State to promote, protect, and fulfil its human rights obligations,” JAG said, adding that the resolution also expressed concern on violence faced by women human rights defenders.
JAG stressed that the violence against human rights defenders must be stopped, as it would otherwise appear that intimidation is tolerated in Malaysia.
“Failure to do so can be interpreted as tolerance by those in power of the type of militant politics and politics of fear and intimidation that are currently pervasive in this country, designed to target human rights defenders, voices of dissent and freedom of expression and assembly and association,” it said.
The JAG comprises of nine groups, namely Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER), All Women’s Action Society (AWAM), Association of Women Lawyers (AWL), Justice for Sisters, Perak Women for Women Society (PWW), Sabah Women’s Action-Resource Group (SAWO), Sisters in Islam (SIS), Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), and Women’s Centre for Change, Penang (WCC).