Do the authorities think intimidating and harassing Suaram will discredit the NGO, at a time when many already perceive that something is not quite kosher, wonders Zaharom Nain.
When there is no transparency, when everything is evidently opaque, when regime credibility is at all-time low, perception – often based on rumour, kopitiam gossip and the alternative media – becomes all.
Just look at crime. At a time when the people started feeling terribly anxious about their personal welfare and security, the regime started to boast about record crime prevention statistics and the purported reduction in crime.
When these statistics were questioned, when contradictory figures were highlighted, excuses rather than valid explanations were offered.
And then, quickly, the matter was dropped, certainly by the sycophantic mainstream media, in the hope that the people will forget.
But, of course, they haven’t. Their daily experiences of increasing crime make them view official explanations with scepticism.
It has been the same, too, with the recent detention of young Malaysians for, at worst, petulant, impertinent acts, like the mooning of photographs and for stamping on these photographs. And then being threatened, without much explanation, with charges under the odious Sedition Act.
When it is pointed out that no such actions were taken for earlier, much worse deeds, similar in manner but executed instead on the opposition by the regime’s minions, very quickly, almost as an afterthought, action is taken against them.
Or at least we are told so, although we haven’t yet seen anyone being arrested, handcuffed and dragged to the balai for peeing on banners of Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat and torching posters of Lim Guan Eng and Bersih head, Ambiga Sreenevasan.
So, yet again, there is no transparency. And yet again, scepticism mounts.
And now, there’s this all-out attack on Suaram.
As has been suggested, perhaps this is, after all, a set-up by groups within the regime, conspiring to dislodge their top man.
Or maybe, more likely, it’s simply various individuals and parties in high places within the regime getting terribly desperate because they feel the Scorpene noose tightening around their necks as the general election looms.
Hence the need to lash out blindly, unthinkingly. To cover up perhaps.
Whatever it is, the ongoing attacks on Suaram, while predictable, nonetheless are downright annoying, indicating how moronic and devoid of intelligent ideas this pathetic regime continues to be.
Battering ram approach
No less than six federal agencies – Bank Negara, the Home Ministry, the police, the Registrar of Societies (ROS), the Companies Commission of Malaysia (CCM) and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) – reportedly have been brought together to investigate Suaram.
Evidently, this is the regime’s battering ram approach. Yet, despite the heavy-duty machinery, there’s been no earth-shattering revelation.
Apart from the vague assertions about ‘suspected transactions’ reported in the Internet media, the boldest accusation has been that Suaram received funds from foreign organisations from Germany and from that bogeyman, George Soros.
But so what if they have?
The organisations reported, including the one linked to George Soros, are not criminal organisations and, indeed, share Suaram’s primary concern for human rights.
They have admirable track records of funding civil society organisations involved in doing good work all around the world.
And, in any case, this bogey of ‘foreign funders’ needs to stop.
The myth being purveyed is that everything that’s ‘foreign’ (especially foreign funding) is bad.
If that were the case, more than half of the research conducted in our universities, for example, would really have to go.
Fact is, international, intergovernment and non-government agencies provide a lot of the funding for much exemplary work to be carried out in so many areas in Malaysia. This has been the case for as long as some of these universities, think-tanks and NGOs have been in existence.
Indeed, without foreign funding, many of my colleagues would be on the next plane back to England.
Also, daily examples of foreign investment in this country indicate how much we as a country depend on foreign funding.
Like it or not, this is what globalisation is all about. So, unless, firstly, the country has the necessary funds and the expertise required, there will be a need for foreign collaboration.
Unfortunately, over many years this country has been bled quite dry of much-needed funds, making such self-sufficiency a pipe dream.
‘Coconut shell’ belief
Of course, secondly, you may talk about ketuanan and all that crap, refuse all this funding, and relegate us to the backwaters of civilisation, with minimal contact with the big, bad world out there, safe in the ‘coconut shell’ belief that we are, indeed, the world.
So, to cut to the chase, foreign funding is a reality. And until now, it’s been a legitimate reality.
And anyone who’s been following Suaram all this time will appreciate the good work that it has done. The numerous research and publications the organisation produces continue to be used by academics and commentators in and outside Malaysia.
At home and abroad, Suaram has established a reputation as being a fiercely independent and brave critic of human rights abuses, institutional corruption and abuse of power.
Indeed, issues which the regime – certainly through its ‘transformation’ programmes, its Rakyat didahulukan, pencapaian diutamakan (People first, performance now) slogan – has said it will address … although perhaps they mean to do this in another lifetime.
So, really, do they think that persecuting Suaram will silence them… or the many other NGOs waiting in the wings to take up Suaram’s causes?
Do they think intimidating and harassing Suaram will discredit Suaram, at a time when many already perceive that something is not quite kosher?
Do they not realise that many Malaysians are asking why, of all the organisations out there that have been exposed as being really shady, including, of course, the much-exposed-but-hardly-questioned National Feedlot Corporation (NFC), it is Suaram that is being targeted?
Yes, Suaram, oh-so-coincidentally the very organisation whose revelations about the Scorpene scandal could shake the very foundations of this regime.
If the regime’s ‘solution’ to all this is intimidation and persecution, it is bound to fail.
Many Malaysians have simply grown so tired of this bullying.
They – we – have clear, and negative, perceptions of a regime that once again is out to silence a small, independent outfit.
An outfit whose ongoing revelations evidently are scaring the living daylights out of major political stakeholders in the regime. An outfit that, really, is but one out of so many others.
Zaharom Nain, a long-time Aliran member, is a media academic and analyst based in Kuala Lumpur.
This commentary first appeared in Malaysiakini.