Anti-refugee petitions pulled down after breaching policy on hate speech

The persecuted Rohingya community has come under attack from individuals and groups seeking their expulsion from Malaysia.

PETALING JAYA: Popular online petition site Change.org is believed to have taken down several petitions targeting the Rohingya refugee community in Malaysia as they breached the platform’s policy on hate speech.

Under its guidelines, Change.org prohibits petitions advocating hate speech against groups of people based on their ethnicity, nationality, and race, among others.

“We’re fans of free speech, but we don’t allow hate speech,” according to one guideline published on the site.

“Hate speech is typically the advocacy of beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people based on characteristics such as their age, colour, disability, ethnic origin, gender identity, nationality, national origin, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, medical condition, or veteran status.”

There were at least five different petitions found attacking the Rohingya in the wake of xenophobic comments aimed at the refugees who fled persecution from the Myanmar regime.

As of yesterday, two such petitions had collected 250,000 signatures urging Putrajaya to expel the Rohingya from Malaysia.

Another petition, with more than 110,000 signatures, was based on a false claim that a Rohingya leader had demanded Malaysian citizenship from the government.

Zafar Ahmad Abdul Ghani, who heads the Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organisation Malaysia (Merhrom), denied ever making such a statement.

Meanwhile, a rights activist told FMT that many who lent their support to anti-Rohingya petitions did not bother to verify the claims.

“We can say that blind hate made them gullible enough to sign. Some are misinformed about who refugees are,” said North-South Initiative director Adrian Pereira.

He said the movement control order had led to “a false perception that we won’t have enough resources and must help Malaysians first”.

But Pereira said it was also possible that the bulk of supporters for such petitions were “cyber troopers” taking instruction from political leaders opposed to helping the Rohingya people.

Pereira praised Muslim as well as other religious leaders who have spoken out against the anti-Rohingya xenophobia, saying they were a necessary humane counter-force.

He said the same could not be said of the politicians who were torn between upholding what is right and pandering to populist demands.

“We have seen how populist opinions shot down the idea to give temporary papers to undocumented migrants in Sabah despite it being a good idea to ensure protection and monitoring,” he added.

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