PETALING JAYA: In April 2020, a social media post falsely claiming that Rohingya activist Zafar Ahmad Abdul Ghani had demanded Malaysian citizenship for refugees led to a wave of hate speech and death threats against him and his family.
Two years on, the “fake news” continues to haunt Zafar, his wife Maslina Abu Hassan and their three children.
The family lives in constant fear, a feeling they are reminded of with each new death threat or hate message. Zafar, who heads Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organisation Malaysia, has barely left his home.
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On one occasion, the family’s car tyres were also slashed.
Maslina, a Malaysian, is at her wit’s end, telling FMT the pressure is “indescribable”.
“It’s been very tough on me because I have to replace him (Zafar) as caretaker for the family. There are no words to describe the emotional and financial pressure that we have (endured) because we lost our livelihood due to the fake news and the false accusation against my husband,” she lamented.
Maslina added that her children will still panic when they hear vehicles outside their house and have nightmares about people trying to kidnap them.
“I can’t anticipate what their future will be, as the fake news and false accusations have damaged all of us as individuals as well as a family unit.
“I want people out there to understand that if you are in my place and your children are targeted – how do you feel and react? You continue with your life happily but you don’t know how we’re struggling, what my children feel and how we cope,” she said, with tears in her eyes.
Maslina pointed out that her eldest son was struggling the most as compared to her other three children adding that she was also struggling to handle them while taking care of Zafar.
“I’m trying my best to do everything that is possible for his protection and I hope that the responsible parties will do something about it,” she said.
Zafar said although the death threats have decreased, he is still traumatised by the entire episode adding that he was recently threatened last month on the phone.
“I still take my (anti-depressant) medicines to get stronger. I’ve lost everything, like my peace of mind.
“I am still living in fear. I cannot provide for my family and take responsibility as a husband and father. There’s nothing I can do, I cannot provide (for them),” he said.
When asked what steps he has taken to overcome his situation, Zafar said he could only pray to God and hope for the best.
Zafar, who is registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said he has applied for resettlement in a third country but has not received updates from the agency.
“There have been no responses so far. I believe and hope that UNHCR can help with the process. UNHCR could have already done it (resettle Zafar) if they wanted to,” he said, adding that he had last sent a letter to the agency last month.
Zafar said he hopes the agency and the Malaysian government will collaborate to help with the resettlement process for him and his family urgently.
“I need (international) protection urgently from UNHCR and once I leave (Malaysia), I can maybe resume my life, get a better job and continue my advocacy for Myanmar,” he said.