The recent attempt on Siti Kasim’s life is a cause for alarm and completely unacceptable as it indicates the hostile environment faced by local activists and human rights defenders.
The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center) strongly condemns these acts and calls on the police to prioritise investigations into the matter and to uncover the identity of the perpetrator so they can be brought to justice, especially now that Inspector General of Police Razarudin Husain has confirmed it to be an attempted murder.
Violence and threats against activists have no place in any society.
On 21 July an object was found attached to the bottom of Siti Kasim’s car – it was later confirmed to be an improvised exploding device (IED) by the police.
Siti Kasim has long campaigned on behalf of indigenous people, both as an activist and as a lawyer defending them in court, and this incident took place days before she was due to drive to Kelantan to appear in court.
Siti is also well known for her outspokenness against religious extremism in the country. As a result, she has faced much criticism and hostility from people who oppose her work and beliefs.
This is not the first case of its kind – activists in Malaysia have previously faced similar threats.
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Amnesty International Malaysia’s 2018 report “‘The Forest Is Our Heartbeat’: The Struggle to Defend Indigenous Land in Malaysia” details how ‘gangsters’ armed with swords or other weapons have been found to confront, harass and physically attack community leaders and activists with impunity. It also mentions how indigenous activist Bill Kayong was gunned down in broad daylight in Miri in June 2016.
Enforced disappearances against social activists have taken place multiple times, such as the cases of Pastor Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat who still remain missing without explanation.
While there are no recent cases of this nature, the re-emergence of such an occurrence is a concerning regression.
In light of the seriousness of the situation, we call upon the authorities to afford Siti the protections she needs under the law. The government has a duty to defend the constitutional right to freedom of expression. Those who exercise this right must be protected against intimidation and threats to their life and limb.
Hence, investigations into the matter must take place as urgently and efficiently as possible, prioritising the apprehension of the individual or group responsible before they can act again.
This is in line with Article 12 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which imposes an obligation on states to ensure protection against “violence, threats, retaliation” etc as a consequence of the legitimate exercise of fundamental human rights.
These matters must be taken seriously by the authorities to prevent the normalisation and escalation of violence against those who speak out against injustice as they see it.
C4 Center stands in solidarity with Siti Kasim and all human rights defenders. – C4 Center