Human Rights Defender punished

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) draws the attention of the international community, particularly human rights and civil society organisations, to an act of grave injustice done by the Malaysian courts and the Malaysian government to a human rights defender and civil society activist, Irene Fernandez, by finding her guilty of a charge on Oct. 16, 2003, and sentencing her to one year in prison. The findings were without any basis of facts. In fact, the charge –“maliciously publishing false news”–itself cannot be justified. The evidence clearly shows that the news she published was meticulously accurate and that she was doing so purely as a concerned person regarding the plight of a group of people who have been neglected, namely, imprisoned migrants. The allegation of malice against a person who has shown great compassion and concern for an extremely unfortunate group of people is frightening. Is compassion an outlawed concept in Malaysia today? Is compassion equated with malice? What is at stake in this judgement and sentence is a complete ban on civil society’s concern for each other. Is the State so overpowering that it cannot tolerate even a small act of kindness extended by a Malaysian citizen to migrants who are visitors in Malaysia? Does it not also apply then that all citizens are forbidden to be concerned for each other’s concerns and tragedies? A society claiming to be a multiethnic and multireligious society cannot outlaw compassion and concern for each other. The claim of brotherhood and sisterhood of all people has been challenged in the most naked way by this charge as well as conviction and sentence. We therefore categorically condemn the charge, the conviction and the sentence. We call upon everyone to make their voices felt for someone who has taken the trouble to show her compassion to the unfortunate ones in society. We call upon all Malaysians to consider the day of this judgement as a day of shame, a day that should worry them about the nature of the justice system in their country. We call upon them not to let this day pass in silence. To be silent now would be to allow floodgates to open with similar actions against everyone who shows any sort of humanity towards others. What is at stake is thus very grave.

It is for these reasons that AHRC univocally condemns this judgement and sentence. As an organisation committed to human rights, we have the utmost respect for the judiciary. This very respect though compels us to condemn this judgement and sentence in the strongest terms as such judgements can come only from a judiciary that has betrayed the very principles on which it is founded. The complete arbitrariness of this judgement and sentence suggests that the judiciary in Malaysia can win respect only if it is fundamentally reformed.

At this crucial moment, we want to express our deepest respect for Irene Fernandez for her work as well as her courage to stand up for basic justice at a time when such justice is denied in her country. We want to say loudly to her that we do not accept the justifiability of the charge or the judgement or the sentence. We also want to say that we consider her a human rights defender par excellence. We thus call upon the judiciary to quash this act of injustice. We call upon the Malaysian government to abolish Section 8A(1) of the Printing Presses and Publications Act of 1984 which created this nonsensical charge of “maliciously false news.” We call upon everyone to stand in solidarity with Irene Fernandez.

For more details, please see the AHRC urgent appeal regarding about Irene Fernandez’s case: UP-43-2003: MALAYSIA: Human rights activist Irene Fernandez found guilty of maliciously publishing false news

— Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-38-2003
Countries : Asia,