⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠Bersih foreign funding probe selective, baseless

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The Bersih 5 crowd outside KLCC on 19 November 2016

The ongoing investigations into foreign funding of Bersih and other NGOs under S124C of the Penal Code is selective and baseless, writes Ambiga Sreenevasan.

Bersih has at all times been transparent about its funding and its accounts. We have always made it clear that Bersih received funds from Open Society Institute (OSI) in 2011 in the sum of US$25,000 and from the National Democracy Institute (NDI) in the sum of USD9,690. Both sums were used in election-related projects.

These allegations are not new. As a result of a suit filed by Bersih and other NGOs in 2012, the New Straits Times issued an apology to Bersih and other NGOs in November 2013 for their baseless allegations of a plot to destabilise the government by using funds allegedly received in the amount of RM20m.

All the documents relating to the funds received by Bersih were filed in court in that suit.

The repeated accusation that there is a conspiracy of sorts to topple the government makes no sense when Bersih’s primary demand since its inception has been for free and fair elections and for strong institutions.

Every activity of Bersih is geared towards these demands. Workshops and training are organised. Voters’ rights are promoted. Representations are made to the Electoral Commission. Election observers are trained. Peaceful assemblies are organised. Sometimes Bersih has had to go to court.

These are all legitimate activities permissible under the law carried out by Bersih and supported by the endorsing NGOs.

What of Arab donation?

Furthermore, if the aim is to topple the government through illegitimate means, clean and fair elections and strong institutions would not be Bersih’s primary demands.

On the other hand, the prime minister has admitted that he received RM2.6bn in his personal account. He has publicly claimed that it is a donation from a foreign entity. There is no transparency, no details about the donor, and no details about how the money was spent, although there is reportedly an admission that the money was spent on the 13th general election.

If the claim of a foreign donor is true, this constitutes direct interference or influence of a foreign entity in the national elections. If anything is an activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy, this must surely qualify.

Civil society believes that Section 124C of the Penal Code is an odious provision. It is vague and open to abuse and should be repealed.

However, if the prime minister’s RM2.6bn in his personal account can escape scrutiny under Section 124C, then why are the NGOs being victimised?

Furthermore, neither the OSI nor the NDI have been banned from funding activities in Malaysia. OSI has been known to fund humanitarian causes in Malaysia. In fact the prime minister had met George Soros in New York in or about 2010.

The NGOs who are being investigated under Section 124 work hard for democracy and the rule of law in this country. Most work for little reward and are supported by volunteers. All this is done in the service of the nation.

Yet NGOs are the ones facing persecution, while those who have truly betrayed the people and our democracy continue to live in luxury without having to account to anyone for their misdeeds.

They persecute and oppress us because they can. Because they hold the levers of power and we don’t.

But we will not be intimidated. Our work will continue no matter the challenges. For we know that only a government afraid of the truth oppresses the people who seek it. And we also know that the truth will always prevail in the end.

Ambiga Sreenevasan is former Bersih co-chairperson.

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