Malaysia: Pua: Putrajaya caving to right-wing pressure with Comango ban

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 9 — DAP MP Tony Pua accused Putrajaya today of pandering to the will of right-wing groups with its sudden decision to ban Comango, the human rights group that has been criticising the government’s treatment of minority groups here.

The ban, announced at a time when public anger still simmers over the “Allah” row and the government’s price hike announcements, has put the Barisan Nasional (BN) administration in a “perpetual state of crisis”, the Petaling Jaya Utara lawmaker said in a statement here.

“It now seems that the Home Minister has succumbed to pressure from extreme right wing elements within Umno as well as entities such as Perkasa and Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia, who accused Comango of promoting unnatural sex and threatening the position of Islam in its human rights report,” Pua said.

He said Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the current Home Minister, appears to be repeating the mistakes of his predecessor Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, whose ban on another civil society coalition was later overturned by the court.

“It appears that the new Home Minister, Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi is attempting to outdo his predecessor with the same stunt, despite the fact that BERSIH has successfully reversed the Home Minister’s order,” the Petaling Jaya Utara said.

In June 2011, Hishammuddin declared that Bersih 2.0, the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections with 62 members, was an illegal organisation.

Pua noted that a month later, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak similarly said that Bersih 2.0 was an illegal organisation because it was never registered with the Registrar of Societies (RoS).

But Pua pointed out that the Kuala Lumpur High Court had on September 6, 2012 ruled that Hishammuddin’s decision was “tainted with irrationality” when quashing his order declaring Bersih to be illegal.

In July 2012, the same High Court also ruled that Bersih 2.0 is a legal society under Societies Act 1966 although not officially registered, overturning Putrajaya’s order to outlaw it in 2011.

“Hence clearly, the BN Ministers are once bitten, twice the fool for Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi intends to taint himself with matching irrationality,” Pua said.

Pua noted that the Comango coalition operates much like Bersih 2.0, where it does not consider itself to be a society but as a “common platform” for its member groups “to collaborate, share and present their views”. 

Yesterday, the Home Ministry declared Comango illegal; claiming that only 15 out of its 54 groups under its umbrella were registered, and accused the coalition of promoting sexual rights contrary to Islam.

Three lawyers polled by The Malay Mail Online have said that the government cannot arbitrarily outlaw a coalition under the Societies Act 1966, and must deal with the members of the Comango coalition on a case-by-case basis even if there were grounds to the argument that some of the groups were not legally registered.

Co-ordinated by Empower and human rights watchdog Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), Comango submitted its report to the UPR in March 2013, which touches issues such as the administration of justice; freedom of religion, expression and participation; rights to work, health and education; indigenous and migrants’ rights; and discrimination involving sexual orientation and race.

However, Putrajaya has been under pressure from Malay-Muslim NGOs ― which have banded under the name MuslimUPRo ― which claimed that that Comango is trying to challenge the position of Islam in the nation and spreading “liberalism teachings” backed by Western powers.

Spearheading the move was Islamist group Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma), which launched a nationwide campaign against human rights recommendations made by Comango last month.

Called ‘Sejuta Ummah Tolak Comango’ (Community of a million rejecting Comango), the campaign includes a petition, nationwide rallies which have started since early November, and distributing leaflets against Comango at mosques after Friday prayers.

The leaflets slammed Comango for allegedly calling for the freedom to renounce Islam; the protection of LGBT rights; the removal of Malay privileges; the freedom to embrace Shiah teachings; and the right for Catholics to refer to God as “Allah”, among others.

Malaysia had gone through the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva in October to assess its human rights conditions, during which some 19 countries, including Muslim-majority ones, asked Malaysia to sign one or more of the six core international conventions on human rights which the Southeast Asian nation has yet to ratify.