ARTICLE 19 urges the Malaysian authorities to immediately, independently and transparently investigate death threats leveled against Malaysian lawyer and human rights defender (HRD) Siti Kasim for her human rights work, including for LGBT people in Malaysia, and to put in place any measures necessary for her protection.
On 24 July 2017, Siti lodged a police report at Sentul police station in Kuala Lumpur after she was alerted to comments posted by a man on Facebook which called for Muslims to behead her. This prompted responses from other social media users calling for Siti to be raped and to be attacked with acid, with individuals exchanging phone numbers to discuss the issue further. ARTICLE 19 considers these posts to both constitute a direct threat against Siti’s life, as well as a potential incitement to violence.
International human rights law requires the Malaysian authorities to protect HRDs from threats of violence. Such offences should also be considered particularly aggravated where they are designed to intimidate a person from exercising their fundamental rights, including to freedom of expression. ARTICLE 19 notes that women human rights defenders, in particular those who vocally support the rights of LGBT people, are particularly vulnerable to these forms of censorship.
We recall that international and regional freedom of expression mandates condemned “crimes against freedom of expression” in a 2012 Joint Declaration. It calls on authorities to condemn unequivocally attacks such as those experienced by Siti. The declaration sets out States’ obligations to prevent and prohibit such attacks, to ensure protection for individuals likely to be targeted for exercising their right to freedom of expression, to ensure independent, speedy and effective investigations as well as redress for victims.
This also finds support in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders., Article 20(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights requires States to prohibit advocacy of discriminatory hatred that constitutes incitement to hostility, discrimination or violence. The UN OHCHR-supported Rabat Plan of Action provides guidance to States on implementing this obligation, including to protect individuals from discriminatory violence while also complying with the right to freedom of expression. ARTICLE 19 considers that advocacy of hatred against a person on the basis of their gender, or on their perceived sexual orientation or connection to LGBT people, should be considered as seriously as other forms of advocacy of hatred.
Last month, ARTICLE 19 strongly condemned the criminal charges brought against Siti for “obstructing a public servant in discharge of his public functions” under Section 186 of the Penal Code in connection with a transgender event on 3 April 2016. The event was raided by the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department (JAWI) based on allegations that it violated a 1996 fatwa prohibiting Muslim women from joining beauty pageants in Malaysia.
“Being vocal in the defence of human rights must not be met with violence. The authorities must immediately condemn the violent threats against Siti. It is deeply concerning that state-sponsored harassment in the form of criminal charges against Siti and other human rights defenders in Malaysia for their work have created an environment where non-state actors feel they can act with impunity with these kinds of threats and possible incitement,.” said David Diaz Jogeix, Director of Programmes at ARTICLE 19.
Threats, including threats of beheadings, against human rights defenders are not new in Malaysia. Last year,death threatswere made against BERSIH 2.0 Chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah, Maria’s three children, former BERSIH 2.0 Chairperson Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan and BERSIH 2.0 Secretariat member Mandeep Singh.
ARTICLE 19 reiterates its call for an independent and transparent investigation on the basis of Siti’s police report, to ensure accountability for those responsible and redress to Siti, and for the Malaysian government to undertake practical measures to protect Siti and all other human rights defenders in the country.
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1. New Straits Times, – ‘Lawyer Siti Kasim lodges police report after Netizens threaten to behead her’
2. ARTICLE 19 – ‘Malaysia: Drop Criminal Charges Against Human Rights Defender Siti Kasim’
3. The Malay Mail Online – ‘Bersih 2.0 chief, family gets second beheading threat’