Malaysia: Escalating harassment of several members of SUARAM

Malaysia: Escalating harassment of several members of SUARAM
Last Update 19 October 2012

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Malaysia.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources of the ongoing and escalating harassment of several members of Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM).

According to the information received, between September 19 and October 4, 2012, several leaders and staff of SUARAM, including Dr. Kua Kia Soong, Director, Dr. Yeoh Seng Guan, Director, Ms. Nalini Elumalai, Executive Director, Ms. Danapakiam Savari, Finance Manager, Ms. Cynthia Gabriel, secretariat and former FIDH Vice President, Mr. Arumugam Kalimuthu, Chairman, Mr. Sivarasa Rasiah, Dr. Mohd Nasir bin Hashim, co-founders, deceased Fan Yew Teng and Charles Hector, and Ms. Sarah Devaraj, Refugee Coordinator, were served multiple notices from either or both the Companies Commission of Malaysia (CCM) and the Registrar of Society (ROS)[1] regarding inspection and investigation conducted by the two administrative bodies on SUARAM’s registration, accounts and activities. A total of 16 notices were served by CCM and eight notices were served by ROS since July 2012.

In many instances, the CCM did not allow SUARAM sufficient time to respond to their requests. For instance, on October 2, 2012, the CCM requested SUARAM to produce within less than 24 hours an extensive list of documents related to all grant agreements and offer letters concluded with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the Open Society Institute (OSI) and all payment vouchers and receipts related to campaign expenses between 2006 and 2011. SUARAM’s lawyers subsequently sent a letter to the CCM to condemn this new request as being both unreasonable and unrealistic, and constituting a clear act of harassment. Despite such short delays, SUARAM nevertheless did produce the documents requested. More generally, SUARAM complied with all orders served by CCM and ROS.

Since July 2012, SUARAM has been the target of ongoing harassment by the Malaysian authorities through investigations, public vilification and threats to charge SUARAM for alleged financial irregularities, receipt of foreign funds and non-registration as a society (see background information).

Moreover, acts of harassment have also been perpetrated by other pro-government entities. On September 28, 2012, a coalition of 30 pro-government Malaysian NGOs calling themselves Gerakan NGO Bertindak 1Malaysia reportedly requested that SUARAM be declared illegal and treated the same as other illegal entities such as Al-Arqam, the Malayan Communist Party and the human rights NGO Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf). In addition, in a Joint Memorandum submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office on September 27, 2012, the same coalition of NGOs also called for legal actions to be taken by the Home Ministry, the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Central Bank (Bank Negara), the CCM and the Inland Revenue Board against SUARAM members under their respective mandates. The coalition in particular accused SUARAM of having committed “offences against the State” and “offences against the person of the King”.

On October 4, 2012, right-wing group Jaringan Melayu Malaysia (JMM) also declared during a press conference that SUARAM had bribed Government officials to cover up information on its foreign funding.

The Observatory strongly denounces the escalating harassment of SUARAM, as well as the Malaysian Government’s attempts to discredit those who receive foreign funds for their human rights work. Indeed, as recalled by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in her Commentary to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders “Governments [should] allow human rights defenders, in particular NGOs, access to foreign funding as a part of international cooperation, to which civil society is entitled to the same extent as Governments. The only legitimate requirements imposed on defenders should be those in the interest of transparency”.

Such acts of harassment seem to merely aim at sanctioning and hindering SUARAM human rights activities. The Observatory therefore reiterates its call on the Malaysian authorities to put an end immediately to the continuing harassment against SUARAM and, more generally, against all human rights defenders and organisations operating in the country.

Background information[2]:

On July 3, 2012, a team of officers from the CCM attempted to serve a notice of inspection to SUARAM, but the organisation pointed out that said notice was defective and hence, invalid. An officer from the CCM subsequently informed SUARAM that the CCM team would come back at 10:30 am on the following day to serve a proper notice. On July 4, 2012, the Directors, Chairman, secretariat members and staff of SUARAM together with lawyers arrived at the SUARAM’s office around 10:00 am in anticipation of the CCM’s scheduled visit. However, the team of officers arrived at 5:53 pm, a long time after the persons authorised to receive the notice had left the office.

Between July 6, 2012 and September 17, the CCM served notices of inspection to different SUARAM leaders and staff on at least five occasions, requesting them to produce information and documents related to the organisation’s activities and/or summoning them to the CCM offices for interrogation.

On August 3, 2012, SUARAM received a letter from the Social Security Organisation (PERKESO), an agency under the Ministry of Human Resources, ordering them to bring a list of documents to its office on August 30. It is to be noted that the said letter stipulated a fine up to RM10,000 (approximately 2,500 Euros) or two-year imprisonment or both in case of non-compliance

In addition, on August 3, 2012, Mr. Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister, stated in a press conference that SUARAM’s accounts were highly suspicious and maintained that CCM’s investigation on the human rights organisation was not politically motivated. A lawyer from the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the largest political party headed by the current Prime Minister Najib Razak, also suggested that SUARAM would act as a money laundering terrorist organisation and called upon Bank Negara (Central Bank) to take immediate actions against it.

On September 7, 2012, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Wisma Putra) expressed its intention to summon the German Embassy in Kuala Lumpur to explain the alleged channelling of funds to SUARAM for activities which purportedly show its “partiality to certain issues that have implications on Malaysia’s domestic situation”.

On September 8, 2012, Mr. Ismail Sabri Yaakob said that the CCM had identified five charges under the Companies Act 1965 that could be made against SUARAM. In addition, the Malaysian Government also announced that investigations would be undertaken by several other government agencies, including the ROS that has publicly alleged that SUARAM is not legally registered as a society.

On September 11, 2012, a meeting was held between the CCM, the ROS, the police, Bank Negara, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, and the Home Ministry, reportedly to determine the jurisdiction and actions to be taken by the respective government agencies against SUARAM.

On September 13, 2012, former SUARAM staff’s family home was visited by officers believed to be from CCM, had enquired about matters pertaining to registration of businesses. The alleged officers obtained the staff’s mobile number from the family members upon learning that the staff was not at home.

Action requested:

Please write to the authorities in Malaysia, urging them to:

i. Put an end to any kind of harassment against all SUARAM staff and leaders mentioned above and more generally against all human rights defenders in Malaysia;

ii. Ensure in all circumstances that SUARAM and its members are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;

iii. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, as well as its Article 12.2, which provides that the State shall “take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of his or her rights”;

iv. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Malaysia.

Addresses:

· Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak, Prime Minister, Prime Minister’s Office Malaysia, Main Block, Perdana Putra Building, Federal Government Administrative Centre, 62502 Putrajaya, Selangor, Malaysia. Tel:  + 60 3 8888 8000, Fax: + 60 3 8888 3444, Email: ppm@pmo.gov.my
· Dato Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, Minister of Home Affairs – Security Collective responsibility, Blok D1 & D2, Kompleks D, Pusat Pentadbiran Kerajaan Persekutuan, 62546 Putrajaya, Malaysia.;Fax: 03-88891613/03-88891610, Email : webmaster@moha.gov.my
· Tan Sri Hasmy Agam, Chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM),Tingkat 11, Menara TH Perdana, Jalan Sultan Ismail, 50250 Kuala Lumpur, 50250 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Fax: + 603-26125620; Email: humanrights@suhakam.org.my
· H.E. Mr. Mazlan Muhammad, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Malaysia to the United Nations in Geneva, International Centre Cointrin (ICC), Bloc H (1st floor), Route de Pré-Bois 20, 1215 Geneva 15, Switzerland. Fax: +41 22 710 75 01. Email: malgeneva@kln.gov.my
· Embassy of Malaysia in Brussels, 414 A avenue de Tervueren, 1150 Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, Belgium, Fax: + 32 2 762 50 49. Email: malbrussels@kln.gov.my

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Malaysia in your respective country as well as to the EU diplomatic missions or embassies in Malaysia.

***

Paris-Geneva, October 19, 2012

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
· E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
· Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

[1] Owing to restrictive provisions and wide powers of the Minister and Registrar to suspend, ban and cancel any societies deemed to be a threat to national security under the Societies Act 1966, SUARAM has, like a number of other Malaysian human rights NGOs, registered under the Registrar of Companies (ROC) since 2002.

[2] See Joint Press Statement, Asian and International Human Rights Groups Urge Government to End Harassment against SUARAM, September 17, 2012.

Posted in Harassments towards SUARAM, Urgent Appeals