Activists see spike in threats to their safety

PETALING JAYA: Two human rights activists have spoken of a sharp rise in the number and intensity of threats to their safety in the past two months.

Michelle Yesudas, a legal adviser for an international NGO that speaks up on a number of rights issues, said she had been subject to “a lot more hate” on Twitter in the past weeks than in the previous nine years.

She told FMT the messages ranged from insults against her family to threats of assault, including sexual assault.

She described them as “shocking and disproportionate” reactions to her tweets against the cruel treatment of refugees.

North-South Initiative director Adrian Pereira said the hate messages he received peaked after he commented on the treatment of Rohingya arrivals in Langkawi in April and June.

There was also a peak in reaction to his denunciation of anti-migrant raids in areas placed under the enhanced movement control order, he said.

He said the hate “exploded again” following last week’s Al Jazeera’s report on Malaysia’s treatment of migrants.

Both Pereira and Yesudas reported that death threats were among the messages they received.

Yesudas alleged that most of the messages she received were from Malaysians, but she added that the consistency and sheer numbers indicated that many came through software that generates automated messages.

She has turned some of the messages into poetry and tweeted them out. She said the exercise had proven to be cathartic “because these trolls are given the opportunity to reflect on their poor manners and language and lack of knowledge”.

“Public discourse has been in a free fall towards xenophobia this year,” she said. “It will take some time and solid footing to build awareness and counter narratives.”

Pereira claimed that “99% of social media users” threatening him were Malaysians.

“The general themes are some kind of right-wing blind nationalism which looks at criticism as somewhat seditious,” he said.

The hate messages, he alleged, showed that Malaysians did not know much about good governance and that they tended to see critics of the government through a sentimental lens.

“They don’t realise that good debate and criticism improve the quality of democracy and governance.”

He said it would be a “waste of time and energy” to entertain them.

“We must not respond and block them out. To respond only gives them more power and legitimacy to continue.”

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