OVER 70 civil society groups have called on authorities in Malaysia to launch an immediate investigation into death threats made against protest leader Maria Chin Abdullah and her children.
The organisations — mostly from the Asia Pacific region — signed a joint statement this week demanding intervention from the police to ensure Maria and her family members’ safety and security. They also called on police to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Kate Lappin, Regional Coordinator of Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) said the threats to Maria and her children are part of a “systemic attack on human rights and democracy while taking a particularly vile, gendered form”.
“When the government itself attacks the work of peaceful human rights advocates, it’s not surprising that extremists feel emboldened to make threats with impunity,” she said in the statement.
“We are calling on government and police to meet their obligations to protect the rights of human rights defenders and their families,” she added.
Lappin was referring to threats against Maria and her family via WhatsApp messages on Oct 18, purportedly by local Islamic State (IS) terrorists.
She said on Oct 20, a car belonging to Maria’s son was splashed with red paint at her residence and on Oct 29, Maria was detained by the police for distributing flyers to promote an upcoming ‘BERSIH 5’ rally organised by the Coalition of Free and Fair elections (Bersih 2.0) in which Maria is the chairperson.
“The Malaysian Government itself has been complicit in harassing and leveling charges against Maria Chin for organising and participating in peaceful actions,” Lappin said.
“State sanctioned harassment and efforts to portray Maria and BERSIH as threat to national security or unity emboldens extremists and creates a permissive culture for threats,” she added.
The organisations also urged the Malaysian to immediately and unconditionally withdraw all charges against Maria under the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 and Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.
In recent weeks, Bersih 2.0, the pro-democracy coalition made up of over 90 Malaysian civil society organisations, carried out a roadshow in 200 towns and villages across the country in an ambitious attempt to shore up support from rural communities in its campaign calling for Prime Minister Najib Razak’s resignation over corruption allegations.
The group was planning a mass rally in Kuala Lumpur on Nov 19 calling for Najib to step down over his alleged involvement in the multi-billion dollar 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.
However, the coalition which typically wears yellow t-shirts during their protests, have been subjected to harassment from pro-government activists, known as “Red Shirts”.