By Dr Kua Kia Soong, Director of SUARAM, 7 November 2016

It is pathetic that our beleaguered government should be trying yet again to demonise NGOs including Malaysiakini and Bersih over their receipt of foreign funding, after the humiliation it received when it launched an all-out attack against SUARAM in 2012, in concert with the mainstream media. The government’s vindictive campaign against SUARAM lasted for more than a year and involved no less than six government agencies which were ordered to investigate SUARAM. Everyone could see that it was payback time for SUARAM having complained to the French courts to investigate the suspected commissions in the RM7 billion Scorpene submarine scandal.

Mother of all editorial apologies

The NST was forced to make an unprecedented “mother of all editorial apologies” after we had sued them for defamation, in which they acknowledged their shockingly low standard of journalism and the government’s failed attempt to show that Malaysia’s concerned NGOs are beholden to foreign funders. The NST’s patently gauche assassination attempt was launched on 21 September 2012 when it carried a front page story with the banner headline: “Ploy to destabilize govt”.  A few other NGOs were also implicated, namely Bersih 2.0., CIJ and Merdeka Centre but clearly SUARAM bore the brunt of that assault.

After many months of relentless harassment of SUARAM – orders for documents and calls for interrogation of SUARAM personnel both past and present including one deceased (ie. Fan Yew Teng) – the six government agencies, including CCM, PERKESO and BANK NEGARA were forced to admit that their allegations didn’t have a leg to stand on. In other words, we were found to be squeaky clean and we had not committed any acts to sell out the nation otherwise we would have been done for!

Is MACC investigating Perimekar and Terasasi?

But despite the more than a hundred documents uncovered by the police investigations into the Scorpene scandal in Paris, no government agency including the MACC appears to be investigating all the reports made about Perimekar and Terasasi and the suspected leaks of military secrets and commissions paid in the Scorpene deal. There have already been indictments by the French courts against two officials of DCN, the French state company that sold the Scorpene submarines.

It was ironic and comical that the order to Bank Negara to investigate SUARAM for money laundering should have coincided with the case of money launderers with funds for Sabah UMNO being caught with RM40 million by the Hong Kong police. We haven’t heard any more about the investigations into this.

Guess who’s been fraternizing with Soros?

The government officials’ “foreign plot” allegation in 2012 was also blown up in their faces when there were subsequent exposes of Dr. Mahathir and Prime Minister Najib’s cosying up to George Soros. First, it was revealed that Prime Minister Najib Razak had a private meeting with billionaire financier George Soros at the luxury Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, New York on Sept 27, 2010 when he attended the UN General Assembly in New York.

At the time, former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad had also joined the chorus, accusing NGOs of working with Soros to engineer a regime change. Mahathir had frequently accused Soros of being a “rogue currency trader” even though when he was prime minister, Malaysia’s Bank Negara was known as a rogue central bank for similarly dabbling in high-risk currency speculation with Malaysian taxpayers’ money. After losing some RM5.7 billion of our money to currency speculators including Soros in the early 1990s, Mahathir called him a “moron”.

Nonetheless, despite his public denunciation of Soros, it was later revealed that Mahathir had written to the billionaire for his support to lend his name to the former premier’s Global Peace Forum project. So did Soros’ support indicate that the Global Peace Forum had been compromised to serve “foreign powers”?

Najib not compromised by RM2.6b in his personal bank account?

Only recently, Malaysia’s Attorney-General (AG) Apandi Ali cleared Prime Minister Najib Razak of any wrongdoing with regard to RM2.6 billion worth of donations from the Saudi royal family that were channelled into his bank account. The MACC had earlier said the funds were a political donation and “there is no evidence to show that the donation was a form of gratification given corruptly.” The AG has ordered the case closed.

Now compare Najib’s RM2.6 billion (donated into his personal bank account) to SUARAM’s annual budget of RM400,000 which is used to employ five staff who give human rights support to Malaysians and refugees who face human rights violations; monitor and document these violations, as well as run campaigns to defend and promote human rights in Malaysia. You’re right…there is no comparison! So lay off Malaysiakini and Malaysian NGOs that have been working selflessly for decades for Malaysian justice, democracy and human rights.



Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser, 18 June 2016

SUARAM calls for the cessation of “political football” by the BN government when it gives out citizenship to a token group of Non-Malays just before every election only when it wants Non-Malay votes. The current by-elections once again saw the continuation of this feudal practice when in fact citizenship for Malaysians who have lived here for decades should be a right they enjoy.

In the last two weeks of the by-election campaign, the mainstream press has highlighted the case of a 100-year-old Malaysian Chinese woman who has been in this country for decades being finally given citizenship.  There was also the case of another Malaysian Chinese restaurateur who has been in the country for more than 40 years. Were they expected to be grateful to the Barisan Nasional government for finally getting their citizenship or should they be angry at the BN government for depriving them of Malaysian citizenship they deserved many years ago?

Right to Citizenship

The right to a nationality is a fundamental human right. It implies the right of each individual to acquire, change and retain a nationality. International human rights law provides that the right of States to decide who their nationals are is not absolute and, in particular, States must comply with their human rights obligations concerning the granting and loss of nationality. The right to retain a nationality corresponds to the prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of nationality.

The right to a nationality is recognized in a series of international legal instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and others. The issue of nationality is also regulated in the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

The prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of nationality can be found in numerous international instruments. In particular, it is worth noting that article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights explicitly provides that no one should be arbitrarily deprived of his or her nationality. The General Assembly, in its resolution 50/152, also recognized the fundamental nature of the prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of nationality.

The 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons defines “stateless person” as “a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law.” States are expected to introduce safeguards to prevent statelessness by granting their nationality to persons who would otherwise be stateless and are either born in their territory or are born abroad.

The Human Rights Council, of which Malaysia is a member, has addressed the enjoyment of the right to a nationality and the avoidance of statelessness in several resolutions on “Human rights and arbitrary deprivation of nationality”.

Reveal the statistics on stateless Malaysians now!

To meet these human rights obligations, the Malaysian government should first and foremost release the statistics on the number of stateless Malaysians according to the various ethnic groups and the length of time they have been living in this country. The government should also give us a cogent explanation for why these Malaysians who have lived in this country for more than 10 years have not been given citizenship.

Article 19(3) of the Malaysian Constitution stipulates:

“The periods of residence in the Federation or the relevant part of it which are required for the grant of a certificate of naturalisation are periods which amount in the aggregate to not less than ten years in the twelve years immediately preceding the date of the application for the certificate, and which included the twelve months immediately preceding that date.”

The figures for stateless people in Peninsula Malaysia alone range from 40,000 (UNHCR 2013) to over 300,000 (Hindraf). We do not need to remind Malaysians of the deprivation of basic rights that stateless people suffer.

This perennial problem of citizenship for stateless Malaysians must be solved once and for all and we are not prepared to accept the sickening spectacle only during an election, of citizenship being dished out in drips to a small group of Malaysians who have lived in this country for decades.


Press statement by SUARAM 17 June 2016

One presumes that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) exists to ensure the health and safety of ALL workers. And yet we don’t see NIOSH speaking out when news breaks about shocking super-exploitation of migrant workers in our country. Two recent cases stand out.

  1. The Nepal Embassy in Kuala Lumpur made the shocking revelation last year that nine of its migrant workers die every week in Malaysia and that nearly 3,000 Nepali workers have died in Malaysia in the past 12 years. The Nepalese Ambassador to Malaysia Dr Niranjan Man Singh Basnyat revealed that 70 percent of the 461 deaths of Nepal workers in Malaysia last year were due to heart attack. The high fatality rate is attributed to super-exploitation, stress and low pay. They work 12-hour shifts and some work more than 18 hours a day.

We still recall the riot that broke out last January at a plywood factory in Kedah where Nepali workers were protesting the death of a colleague who had died because he was not taken to hospital in time. The protesting workers were arrested and deported. A month earlier, two Nepalis in the same factory had also died of Sudden Death Syndrome. There was a similar protest at a factory in Johore. Last year, the Malaysian government withdrew subsidies to non-citizens for medical fees, increased medical fees for non-nationals by 30 percent and also put a limit on prescription drugs for foreigners.

NIOSH must call for a stop to 12-hour shifts; ensure that employers carry out periodic medical checkups for workers and that there are sufficient in-house medical facilities at their factories. NIOSH must also have an opinion about the deduction of levy payment from workers salary. Levy is a premium payment that should be borne by employers for bringing in migrant workers; it is unacceptable that this payment is deducted from migrant workers’ wages. NIOSH should also demand that employers comply with the new minimum wages of RM1000 beginning July 2016 and not give excuses to postpone its implementation.

  1. The second case highlighting the disregard of the health and safety of migrant workers concerns the cessation of outdoor activities when the Air Pollution Index reaches hazardous levels. While schools have to close and people are advised to stay indoors, NIOSH does not call for the cessation of outdoor work such as in construction sites or plantations or mines where most of the workers are migrants.

We wish to remind NIOSH that they exist to safeguard the health and safety of ALL workers and not just Malaysian workers. Failure to fulfill this duty and obligation is a violation of international human rights standards.



Speech at the launch by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser, 10 am, 15 June 2016

SUARAM is pleased to announce the publication of its Human Rights Report on Malaysia for 2015. We are proud to say that since SUARAM’s first Human Rights Report on Malaysia in 1998, our documentation and monitoring desk has ensured the publication of an annual human rights report every one of these 18 years, without fail.

Despite our diligence in auditing human rights in Malaysia, the Malaysian state continues to reinvent excuses tantamount to phobias, to suppress the just demands of Malaysians for their basic human rights: international terrorism is used to justify detention without trial; arbitrary bans on citizens’ freedom of movement are justified by flimsy notions of “protecting national pride”; the Sedition Act is invoked to persecute and harass critics, cartoonists, clowns and even football fans.

Satirizing leaders part of being a high-income society

Our leaders keep telling us to aim to be a high-income nation but they do not seem to realise that in becoming a high income nation, making fun of national leaders is part of that package – evident in all other such developed nations. Whenever leaders behave or act in unbecoming, undemocratic and often ludicrous ways, they open themselves to caricature by the nation’s cartoonists and lampoon artists. And as a high income nation we ought to be mature enough to put all this clowning in perspective and highlight the fact that citizens should have a healthy disrespect for their elected representatives. After all, is it not at election time that we see elected representatives as they really are: the SERVANTS of the people? So what is so different about the elected representative who gets elected to become Prime Minister? What is so sacrosanct about the post of Prime Minister?

Mahathir’s disrespectful open letter to Tunku, 17 June 1969

In contrast, what we witness repeatedly in Malaysia is selective prosecution and persecution that varies according to the situation and the personality involved. We just have to recall the utter contempt shown by Dr Mahathir for then Prime Minister and Bapa Malaysia, The Tunku, in Dr Mahathir’s offensive open letter to Tunku on 17 June 1969. Nonetheless, for writing this “disrespectful” letter to then Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir was not arrested nor was he charged for sedition. Furthermore, while Mahathir’s book ‘The Malay Dilemma’ published a few months later was banned, he was not arrested under the Internal Security Act. On the other hand, I was alleged to have written ‘The Roots of Polarisation in Malaysia’ in 1987 for which I was detained for 445 days under the ISA, even though my book was never banned. Such is the nature of Malaysian double standards and selective prosecutions…

So, comparing Mahathir’s offensive point blank letter to Bapa Malaysia in 1969 with the arrest and charges against Fahmi Reza for his rather humanistic and artistic clown mask, we have a good idea of the nature of Malaysian justice.

The fool on the hill

Like human rights, clowns are universal, performing the role of the fool, reminding us that everyday actions and tasks can be seen as extraordinary and for whom the absurd or ridiculous, especially in Malaysia has become ordinary and part of life. Thus, whether it is 2.6 billion in the Prime Minister’s personal account or the Chief Minister who does not know the market value of his house, the clown’s role is to shake us out of our complacent stupor. Through history and in diverse cultures, the flourishing of clowning as comedy has come to be accepted as a reflection of the human condition and welcomed by wise leaders as useful feedback.

In fact, it is not just in high-income 21st century societies that clowns abound but even in medieval times, court jesters had a certain role in brightening up the entertainments. Medieval jesters were responsible for amusing the court, to lighten the spirit of the ruler so as to prevent over-oppression of the people.

From ‘globophobia’ to ‘coulrophobia’

Somehow, Malaysian powers-that-be do not seem amused by the free spirit of our clowns and cartoonists! This irrational “fear of clowns” has been diagnosed as a psychiatric condition known as ‘coulrophobia’: ‘coulro’ is derived from the ancient Greek word for “one who goes on stilts.”

Now this is no laughing matter – fear of clowns is a serious issue. It is all the more serious when our authoritarian rulers only recently displayed signs of yet another psychiatric condition known as ‘globophobia’, the fear of balloons. Yes, it was also in 2015 that Malaysian lass Bilqis Hijjas was charged with insulting the Prime Minister by dropping balloons bearing pro-democracy messages NEAR him during a public event. The balloons didn’t even touch him and we know how traumatic it is to be hit smack on the head with a balloon! “Balloongate” has rightly drawn public ridicule as another example of phobia that authoritarians suffer from…

What have the draconian laws achieved?

But for all these frivolous arrests and prosecutions by the Malaysian police, they have failed to prevent years of impunity of paedophiles who have been preying on Malaysian children as well as impunity of illegal loggers who have been stripping our hills bare. Detention without trial has likewise failed to prevent corrupt practices of immigration officers which have facilitated the entry and exit of international terrorists and trafficked persons on a significant scale through the years.   On the other hand, the arbitrary arrests and detention of a politician and his lawyer for expressing their views on the 1MDB scandal have exposed the abuse of detention without trial (DWT) laws, something the proposers of these laws promised would not happen.

Our draconian laws have not prevented us from being ranked No.2 in the world for crony capitalism and No.5 for illicit financial flows. And we have moved up from Tier 3 to Tier 2 in the human trafficking index despite the discovery of mass graves near the Thai border and only because the US are too keen to include Malaysia in the TPPA scheme of things.

Clearly, the authorities have failed to get their priorities right. The recent busting of the vile paedophile Huckle by the British police has exposed the reality that Malaysia does not have effective laws to deal with paedophiles in our midst and that the attitude of the authorities to such crimes against children leaves much to be desired. Likewise, the recent cases of the cavalier preacher Zakir Naik and the lecturer at UTM who preach religious bigotry has highlighted the need for a Race & Religious Hatred Act to deal with religious bigotry, hate speeches and related intolerance.

The relative gravity of human rights violations

As we compare the relative gravity of human rights violations, using a singular ranking index to compare violations in different spheres is not easy. Thus, while many Malaysians would see the 1MDB scandal as a major violation of good governance, how does it compare with the plight of the Rohingyas who were forced to flee their country in rickety boats at the mercy of the Andaman Sea or the plight of trafficked human beings who lost their lives and were buried in the mass graves uncovered in 2015?

When a 100 year-old Malaysian who has lived in this country for decades finally got her citizenship, does the government of the day deserve praise or scorn? The mainstream press carried the news as if to celebrate the great benevolence of the BN government. And after centuries in this land that is truly theirs, how do we compare all these human rights violations with yet another year of abject existence for the original people of the peninsula, the Orang Asli, who remain one of the poorest communities in this country?

Missed opportunities in 2015

Malaysia missed an invaluable opportunity in 2015. As the chair of ASEAN, Malaysia could have taken the initiative in tackling the issue of Rohingyas who were forced to flee Burma in flimsy boats; the periodic haze in the region caused by unscrupulous burning of the forests in Indonesia and the scourge of human trafficking highlighted in 2015 by the discovery of the mass graves.

To conclude, SUARAM reminds the country that human rights exist to impose limits on the powers of despots and help to safeguard human dignity and autonomy. The Malaysian government would do well to recognize human rights as compass guides to good governance and to observe the legal obligations in ratifying all the essential international conventions on the various aspects of human rights demanding urgent attention. That is what a high income nation would aspire to ensuring!