by Eileen Ng
The Malaysian Insider
April 26, 2014
With Kuala Lumpur keen to present its best image as a moderate country during Barack Obama’s visit this weekend, a prominent lawyer has called on the US president not to be hoodwinked and instead, to rap Putrajaya’s human rights record and be aware of rising extremism.
In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Bar Council Human Rights Committee co-chair Andrew Khoo said Obama should not buy into the fiction that Putrajaya is trying to showcase; that Malaysia is a moderate Muslim-majority democracy, a model of interracial and interreligious diversity heading for developed nation status by 2020.
The Barisan Nasional-led federal government will also try to present itself as an ally in combating arms proliferation and transnational crime, and friend of the United States in Asia, Khoo wrote.
“President Obama should not accept this fiction or defer to the Malaysian government because of regional security concerns. Instead, he would do well to note the sorry state of its human rights and call for greater respect for civil liberties.
“President Obama needs to deftly use his public appearances and statements to demonstrate concern about what is happening in Malaysia – and to say what many Malaysians fearfully cannot.
“The usual mantra of moderation can no longer conceal the escalation of extremism and repression,” Khoo wrote in the international news and business daily.
Obama arrives today from South Korea on a three-day visit as part of his Asia trip that also took him to Japan. He leaves on Monday for the Philippines.
In his opinion piece titled The Myth of Malaysia’s Moderation, the lawyer shone the spotlight on the rising racial and religious extremism since the 13th general election last year.
In citing examples, Khoo made references to the persecution of Muslim Shia and Ahmaddiya Islamic sect, the ban on Christians using the Arabic word “Allah” to describe God, Putrajaya’s declaration of human rights coalition Comango as unlawful and the use of a colonial-era law Sedition Act against the government’s detractors.
He said recent legislative changes introduced by Najib are the “opposite of needed reform”, citing laws that outlaw street demonstrations and allow for indefinite detention without trial against those involved in serious criminal offences.
“Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has promoted Malaysia internationally as a leader in a global movement of moderation. But these actions show the government is anything but moderate.
“Mainstream newspapers, many of which are owned by political parties within the government, brazenly promote such double-speak. Those who dare to criticise put themselves at risk of vituperative attacks from extremist groups, police investigation and politically motivated prosecution,” he wrote. – April 26, 2014.