- POSTED: 09 Jan 2014 13:20
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Amnesty International accused Malaysia's government on Thursday of a "disturbing assault" on freedoms by banning a leading coalition of human rights groups.
KUALA LUMPUR: Amnesty International accused Malaysia's government on Thursday of a "disturbing assault" on freedoms by banning a leading coalition of human rights groups.
Malaysia's Home Ministry issued a statement on Wednesday declaring the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs (COMANGO) illegal because the group and 39 of its 54 components were not registered with the government.
Ministry secretary-general Mohamad Khalid Shariff accused COMANGO of pursuing "rights that run contrary to Islam" including gay, lesbian and transgender issues.
The coalition angered authorities last year when it submitted a report to the United Nations condemning the Muslim-majority nation's human rights record ahead of a UN rights review.
Amnesty, whose Malaysian arm is under COMANGO, denounced the move.
"Outlawing COMANGO is a deeply disturbing action aimed at silencing important critical voices that have advocated on the world stage for Malaysia to uphold international human rights law and standards," Hazel Galang-Folli, Malaysia researcher at Amnesty International, said in a statement.
Other activists argue that COMANGO, which includes women's rights group Sisters in Islam, is a loose coalition that requires no registration under the law.
"We are outraged by the fact that the government has chosen to deny and ignore freedom of association by saying that COMANGO is somehow illegal or unlawful," said Andrew Khoo from the Human Rights Committee of the Malaysia Bar Council.
"I mean, at the end of the day it is a coalition so a lot of the underlying NGOs are registered organisations."
It remains unclear how the ministry's ban will affect COMANGO activities or those of its members.
Prime Minister Najib Razak and his Home Minister Zahid Hamidi did not comment on the ban, nor the recent raid and confiscation of Malay bibles.
A gag order on the cabinet is believed to have been issued.
But some cabinet ministers and the police are pushing the responsibility to the Selangor state government to secure the release of the more than 300 copies of bibles.
"The Selangor government should be making the decision," said Khalid Abu Bakar, Malaysia Inspector General of Police.
"It's a state agency. Selangor is a Pakatan government, so it should be the Pakatan government, the opposition government in Selangor to deal with this. Religion is a state matter," said Maximus Ongkili, who is the Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister.
Malaysia's 57-year-old ruling coalition, which guided the country's transition to a regional economic success, has long applied a firm hand to rights groups and other critics. Authorities have used arrests and court charges to apply pressure.
Facing public discontent over corruption and authoritarianism, Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2011 promised a more democratic environment as the country prepared for elections that were held last May.
But the opposition and other critics have labelled that pledge a cynical vote grab, alleging continued curbs on democratic freedoms.
The ruling coalition retained power in May but with its worst showing ever and since then the political situation has been tense.
The opposition has repeatedly staged protests challenging the outcome, while the government has responded by levelling sedition charges at some of its most vocal opponents.
Meanwhile bible distributor, Bible Society of Malaysia, wants its bibles returned as quickly as possible.
"There should be a return of the bibles that were seized by JAIS (Selangor state religious authority) to the Bible Society. We're a Bible supplier, we don't engage in propagation," said Lee Min Choon of the Bible Society of Malaysia.
The Bible Society of Malaysia is meeting JAIS on Friday.