Do not threaten to silence civil society, Bersih tells Sabah minister

Sabah Infrastructure Development Minister Peter Anthony. (Bernama pic)

KOTA KINABALU: Bersih 2.0 (Sabah) today condemned a statement by Sabah Infrastructure Development Minister Peter Anthony that appeared to state that he wants to control and prevent civil society from speaking up to defend local communities affected by government projects.

According to a Borneo Post article, Anthony said that NGOs, such as Partners of Community Organisations in Sabah (Pacos), should abide by the law and regulations of the state and should not be allowed to incite the people.

He added that he will propose for an update on existing laws to govern the NGOs.

Bersih said statements such as these are truly embarrassing and do not reflect the people’s aspirations that led them to change the previous government that used to silence the people’s voices.

Civil society organisations will echo the voices of their communities affected or displaced by mega government projects, it said in a statement today.

In other words, Bersih said Anthony must respect the right to freedom of speech as enshrined in Article 10 of the Federal Constitution.

Bersih said citizens on the lower rungs of society have only their voices as a channel to criticise and disapprove of government policies that do not take into account the interests of the community and the people at large.

“Sabahans’ interests are often sacrificed and preyed on by the ones entrusted to protect them.

“Freedom of speech and a strong civil society can prevent this from recurring.

“The minister’s statement raises a question: ‘Is this to defend the predators?’

“If not, then the government can face the civil society’s scrutiny and checks with a bold and open heart — to respond to scepticism with facts and logic, instead of fear, to the point of wanting to silence the people.”

Bersih said Sabahans changed the previous government with the hope that democracy and freedom of speech will be more vibrant.

Ministers, Bersih said, should aspire to be closer to and understand the demands of civil society organisations. They should not resort to threats to silence the voices of the rakyat.