KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 13 — Following a move to outlaw it, a coalition of human rights defenders vowed today to carry on its activities ahead of the next step for Malaysia in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at March 20.
The Coalition of Human Rights NGOs (Comango) insisted that only Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi can declare an association unlawful, and this has yet to happen.
“We refute this declaration, as only the home minister may by order gazette an association as unlawful under Section 5 of the Society’s Act 1966. As at January 8, 2013, it is not apparent that the minister has done so,” the coalition’s spokesman Honey Tan told reporters here.
“Comango and our endorsing organisations have and will continue to carry out our activities in accordance with internationally agreed principles underpinning the freedoms of association and expression.”
Tan said that Comango has consulted its lawyers, and will await further developments before considering to sue the ministry over its declaration.
On January 8, the Home Ministry’s secretary-general declared the outspoken coalition outlawed as he alleged the majority of groups under it were un-Islamic and unregistered.
Malaysia had gone through the UPR in October to assess its human rights conditions.
In the process, some 19 countries, including Muslim-majority ones, asked Malaysia to sign one or more of the six core international conventions on human rights which the Southeast Asian nation has yet to ratify.
According to Tan, Comango plans to make an oral intervention during the formal adoption of Malaysia's UPR report by the United Nations Human Rights Council on March 20, where Putrajaya will announce which of the 249 recommendations made by other countries it will adopt.
Malaysia first came under the UPR review on February 2009, and consequently accepted 62 of the 103 recommendations issued by the UPR working group.
In preparation of the March event, Comango will be holding a national consultation process to discuss Malaysia's progress in its UPR, including with foreign missions here.
The coalition was also invited by Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) to join in a round table discussion in January 20.
Putrajaya had been actively engaging Comango since September 2008 before the ban last week, with the Home Ministry claiming that the coalition was promoting sexual rights contrary to Islam and that only 15 out of its 54 groups were legally registered.
Co-ordinated by Pusat Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower) and human rights watchdog Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), Comango submitted its report to the UPR in March 2013.
Among the issues included in its report were the administration of justice; freedom of religion, expression and participation; rights to work, health and education; indigenous and migrants’ rights; and discrimination involving sexual orientation and race.
The coalition is made of 54 NGOs, which also included women rights group Sisters in Islam, Amnesty International Malaysia, Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and Tenaganita.
However, Putrajaya has been under pressure from several Malay-Muslim group that banded under the name MuslimUPRo, which acccused Comango of trying to challenge the position of Islam in the nation and spreading “liberalism teachings” backed by Western powers.
Spearheading the move was Islamist group Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma), which launched a nationwide campaign against human rights recommendations made by Comango last month.
Called ‘Sejuta Ummah Tolak Comango’ (Community of a million rejecting Comango), the campaign includes a petition, nationwide rallies which have started since early November, and distributing leaflets against Comango at mosques after Friday prayers.
The leaflets slammed Comango for allegedly calling for the freedom to renounce Islam; the protection of LGBT rights; the removal of Malay privileges; the freedom to embrace Shiah teachings; and the right for Catholics to refer to God as “Allah”, among others.