Rights groups urge PM to act against Rohingya hate speech

There are an estimated 101,000 Rohingya refugees in the country.

PETALING JAYA: Eighty-four rights groups have urged Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to address the hate speech against Rohingya refugees following the online campaign against the community which began shortly after the partial lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the country.

In a joint statement copied to Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin, Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, Human Resources Minister M Saravanan and Suhakam chairman Othman Hashim, they said the attacks on the community had raised “serious concerns” about Malaysia’s commitment to protecting human rights, including the rights to equality, non-discrimination, life and security stated in international law and guaranteed under the Federal Constitution.

To date, they said, the government had “failed to adequately respond” to the surge in hate speech as well as the threats directed at the Rohingya population in the country.

They also accused Putrajaya of sending mixed messages regarding the attacks on the community.

On April 27, they said, senior minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob had expressed sympathy for the Rohingya and urged Malaysians to take a peaceful approach to the issue.

“However, on April 30, this message of tolerance was undermined by an official statement by the home minister that emphasised the Rohingya’s lack of legal status or rights in Malaysia and justified measures ‘to stop the intrusion of illegal immigrants,” they said.

They also claimed that authorities had “sought to cast blame on the Rohingya community” for the spread of hate speech and discriminatory rhetoric, citing police investigations opened into Rohingya social media users who had posted videos containing derogatory remarks about Malaysians.

In contrast, they said, no action had been specified against those who threatened violence against the Rohingya or the activists who supported their plight.

“Your leadership in addressing hate speech and threats directed at the Rohingya is essential to prevent violence, discrimination and other human rights abuses,” they said.

“We urge you and your government to speak out in support of the rights of the Rohingya. We ask that you and your government challenge false or discriminatory narratives and highlight tour government’s commitment to upholding their human rights.

“As prime minister, we urge you to ensure that all government officials and bodies do the same when addressing the situation of the Rohingya in Malaysia.”

The statement was signed by all 84 groups which included Amnesty International Malaysia, ARTICLE 19, the European Rohingya Council, Human Rights Watch, the Islamic Renaissance Front, Pusat Komas, Suaram and Sisters in Islam.

The spate of hate speech against the Rohingya came in the wake of false allegations that a community activist had demanded citizenship, with religious leaders and rights activists appealing for calm.

It also followed the authorities’ controversial move to push back boats carrying hundreds of Rohingya people fleeing Myanmar last month.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Malaysia estimates there are some 101,000 Rohingya refugees in the country, who fled persecution from the Myanmar regime which does not recognise them as citizens.

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