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Sunday, 18 December 2016

Civil society demands that the government stops harassing and stigmatising NGOs ― Hakam & civil society NGOs

DECEMBER 15 ― 1. We, members of Civil society (represented by the organisations listed below) are greatly concerned by the recent developments pertaining to the arrest of Puan Maria Chin Abdullah under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, the summoning of activists from Suaram, Lawyers for Liberty and Empower for investigations, the police raid and seizure of the offices of Bersih and Empower and the numerous news reports making allegations against various organisations in respect of the foreign funding, including the Malaysian Bar Council.
2. We are also perturbed by news reports of the Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announcing the formation of a task force to probe into NGO funding and accusing them of enticing revolutions to topple the present government and news reports of Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan’s reply to the numerous concerns regarding local human rights issues raised by Maina Kiai the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in his recent visit to Malaysia.
3. The recent events and published news reports give the impression that the authorities are out to discredit and demonise human rights activists and civil society organisations who have voiced criticisms and dissent against the government.  
4. Of particular concern is the stigmatisation of the receipt of foreign funding by civil society organisations, stating that this is tantamount to “treason” and/or “interference of foreign bodies” which threatens the nation. Allegations that such funding are used to topple the government are preposterous. Funding of civil society activities in areas of education, advocacy, monitoring and campaigning for strengthening of our democratic process are legitimate activities.
5. Civil society in Malaysia who voice criticism of public affairs often face difficulties in raising funds locally, as donors (both individuals and body corporates) are fearful of repercussions. Statements discouraging support have been made by the authorities from time to time. Government funding is rarely available to NGOs that have openly voiced criticism of the government and its work.
6. Civil society has a vital part to play in democratic and developmental processes in Malaysia, alongside government agencies and business corporations.  The role of activists in promoting the common good has been duly recognised by the Court of Appeal recently. The existence of civil society and the work of activists should not be threatened by limitations and restrictions on funding.
7. Freedom of association is guaranteed under the Federal Constitution (See: Article 10). The freedom of association encompasses not only the right to form and join any associations but also to seek, receive and use resources ― human, material and financial ― from domestic, foreign, and international sources for activities of the associations (See: Article 13, Declaration of Human Rights Defenders adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, A/RES/53/1999).
8. We wish to state categorically that as members of civil society, which may from time to time voice our concerns about public affairs, we are not “traitors” to the nation. Dissenters ought not be treated as enemies of the state. For a true parliamentary democracy to exist, we must be free to voice our concerns.
9. As civil society groups which advocate for transparency and accountability, we remind the government that our accounts are made available through the filing of yearly returns.
10. We urge the government to respect the role that civil society plays in our country’s democracy and in nation building.  We also urge the government to stop the harassment of activists and NGOs through threats of arrests, raids and seizures. NGOs have the same rights as businesses and government to receive foreign funding, and should not be stigmatised for it.
This memorandum was submitted by (in alphabetical order):
1. Aliran
2. Amnesty International - Malaysia
3. Anak Muda Sarawak
4. Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM)
5. Angkatan Warga Aman Malaysia (Wargaaman)
6. Association of Women Lawyers
7. Malaysia Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
8. Centre to Combat Corruption & Cronyism (C4)
9. Community Action Network (CAN)
12. Himpunan Hijau
14. Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF)
15. Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS)
16. Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (JERIT)
17. Kesatuan Mahasiswa Malaysia (KMM)
18. Lawyers for Liberty (LFL)
20. Malaysia Youth and Students Democratic Movement (DEMA)
21. Malaysian Indians Progressive Association (MIPAS)
22. Malaysian Indians Transformation Action Team (MITRA)
23. Malaysian Physicians for Social Responsibility
24. Malaysian Youth Care Association (PRIHATIN)
25. Movement for Change Sarawak (MoCS)
26. Oriental Hearts and Minds Study Institute (OHMSI)
27. Partners of Community Organisation (PACOS)
28. Penang Indepedent Schools Education Society
29. People Welfare and Rights Organisation (Power)
30. Permas
31. Persatuan Hak Asasi Manusia (HAKAM)
32. Persatuan Pengguna Klang
33. Persatuan Rapat Malaysia (RAPAT)
34. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita
35. Selangor Pusat Komas
36. Research for Social Advancement (REFSA)
37. Rise of Sarawak Efforts (ROSE)
38. Sisters in Islam
39. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)
40. Tenaganita
41. Tindak Malaysia
42. Tobpinai Ningkokoton Koburuan Kampung (TONIBUNG)
43. University of Malaya Association of New Youth (UMANY)
44. Women’s Aid Organization
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