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UN experts call for protection of NGOs working for free, fair polls

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UN independent experts have urged the Malaysian government to protect effectively the leaders of Bersih, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the United Nations reported in a news release.

Ambiga Sreenevasan

GENEVA (7 June 2012) – A group of United Nations human rights experts called on the government of Malaysia and other parties involved to respect and protect the legitimate work of an umbrella group of NGOs campaigning for reform of the electoral process in the lead-up to the general election, scheduled to take place by April 2013.

The UN independent experts on human rights defenders, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression urged the authorities to protect effectively one of the directors of the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih), Ambiga Sreenevasan, and other Bersih members, against acts of harassment and intimidation by various groups of individuals.

Ms Sreenevasan has been the subject of credible threats against her life in the past months. She has been labelled by various groups as an enemy of the State and a traitor, who should be expelled from the country, because of her advocacy work with Bersih calling for reform of the electoral process. Effigies of Ms Sreenevasan were also burned. Recently she had to cancel her participation in a public event because of fears for her safety.

“I am seriously concerned by these disturbing acts of harassment against a prominent woman human rights defender who is being targeted because of her legitimate human rights activities in Malaysia,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya. “I urge the authorities to investigate thoroughly these allegations, hold the perpetrators accountable, and effectively protect Ms Sreenevasan, and more generally, Bersih members.”

In addition, Ms Sreenevasan, together with other organisers from the Bersih Steering Committee, has been sued by the federal government in relation to property which was allegedly damaged during a rally organised by the coalition last April.

“Holding assembly organisers liable for the alleged unlawful conduct of others is not compatible with standards governing the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, and has a detrimental effect on the exercise of this right,” stressed the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of opinion, Maina Kiai. “I urge the government of Malaysia to withdraw the complaint against her.”

“The government of Malaysia should fully guarantee the right to freedom of opinion and expression of those advocating for electoral reform, and should ensure a safe and conducive environment for journalists and those monitoring and reporting on demonstrations”, emphasised the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue. “The rights to freedom of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly are fundamental pillars of democracy.”

“In view of the urgency and recurrence of the situation,” Mr. Kiai and Ms Sekaggya added, “we would like to remind the government of our requests to visit the country, which we believe will contribute to the realisation of the rights in question in accordance with international human rights standards.”

News release from the United Nations Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner

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