KUALA LUMPUR: The Rohingya community in Malaysia should not have "stretched" public sympathy by taking to the streets to protest the unrest in Myanmar, chairman of the Malaysia human rights commission (SUHAKAM) Razali Ismail said on Saturday (Sep 2).
Razali was speaking on the sidelines of the Democracy in Southeast Asia: Achievements, Challenges, Prospects conference co-organised by SUHAKAM and the Kofi Annan Foundation.
"There's a lot of sympathy for Rohingyas here but they shouldn't have stretched it ... I wish they would make representation to the government in an orderly fashion. I do not think taking to the streets in a foreign country is the way out," he said.
On Thursday, more than a thousand Rohingyas descended on the streets of Kuala Lumpur in buses, trucks and on foot to join a planned protest by Muslim NGOs outside Myanamar embassy demanding an end to the bloodshed in Rakhine.
After police stopped them from marching to the embassy, the protesters took to the streets instead. Almost a hundred of them were arrested for defying orders to disperse and one attempted to set himself on fire after dousing himself in petrol.
Many took to social media to express their concerns over the chaos that ensued.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Paul Low - also speaking at the conference - said foreigners should be given certain freedom to protest provided it is done in a peaceful manner, but it must not be construed as government interference with other countries' domestic affairs.
"We do hope that allowing Rohingyas to speak up here is not misunderstood as Malaysia participating in a process of Rohingyas criticising another government. This is done independently (by the Rohingyas)," he said.
Malaysia is home to about 60,000 Rohingyas refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, although migrant groups say the number easily exceeds 100,000.
IDENTITY POLITICS HIGHLIGHTED BY FORMER WORLD LEADERS
At the conference, identity politics based on social groups was highlighted as a serious threat to democracy.
Keynote speaker Yves Leterme, who is the former Prime Minister of Belgium, said Southeast Asia - like many parts of the world - is witnessing a growing trend of democratic backsliding in the past decade, including the emergence of hybrid regimes that are authoritarian in nature.
Former ASEAN secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan attributed the middle income trap many Southeast Asian countries are stuck in to that rollback in democracy.
Former president of Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono also said the trend needs to be checked and managed, warning that populism is a "double edged sword" that could both charm and harm the nation.