ALLAH, RACISM, DIRTY POLLS RAISED: Church leaders, Ambiga, activists get an hour with Obama

Ten civil society groups brought up human rights issues and also the political persecution of opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in an hour-long meeting with US President Barack Obama today.

Former Bersih co-chair Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, said they managed to raise religious and racial polarisation issues, divisive politics by the Najib administration, the lack of free and fair elections and the control of the media by the government.

“The President was very engaging and heard us out and there was an agreement on the importance of human rights issues.

“He also assured us of continuous engagement through the United States embassy here,” she said.

Ambiga is hopeful that these issues could be part of the agenda of co-operation that Malaysia and the US governments agreed upon today, adding that the aim was for the US to understand the real human rights scenario in Malaysia currently.

“But more importantly, this meeting sends out a powerful message that civil society has a significant role to play in the advancement of democracy all over the world,” Ambiga said.

Council of Churches of Malaysia general secretary Rev Dr Hermen Shastri, who was also at the meeting in Ritz Carlton told The Malaysian Insider that Obama agreed that the ideal for a just society was a concern for everybody, including the government.

Dr Hermen said that Obama listened intently to the issues brought up, including the restriction on the use of the word Allah.

The Allah issue was also raised by another local Christian leader at the meeting, Archbishop Emeritus Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam of the Catholic Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur.

“The issue of the confiscation of the Malay bibles was also brought up to his attention and I raised the fact that there is a narrowing space for us as people of the Christian faith, where we are constantly caught up in the majority versus minority tensions,” Dr Herman said.

He added that Obama extended the initial 15 minutes alloted to the group to nearly an hour.

After the meeting, Honey Tan, spokesperson for the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to the United Nations commented that despite many requests, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had not spared the time to meet with them, and instead they got to meet the US president.

Recently, Malaysia’s Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) vice-chairperson Datuk Dr Khaw Lake Tee described the state of human rights in Malaysia as “challenging”, adding that the government needed to accept more recommendations that were made by the United Nations through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

The UPR is a peer-review process where other countries can make recommendations to each other on what areas they needed to improve, such as better recognition of the freedom of assembly, the rights of refugees and stateless people and women’s empowerment. –TMI