Two years on, Zafar Ahmad is still without protection from harassment and threats
Rohingya migrants, who had escaped from a detention center after a riot, sit in a Malaysian immigration truck after being recaptured in Penang on April 20. (Photo: AFP)
Civil society groups across the globe have expressed their deep concerns about the situation of stateless Rohingya refugees and human rights defender Zafar Ahmad Abdul Ghani.
A joint statement signed by 65 national, regional and international groups has highlighted the harassment and threats against Ahmad and his family due to the failure of Malaysian authorities to ensure his protection.
Ahmad, president of the Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization, has been systematically vilified and receiving death threats since April 2020 after being falsely accused of demanding citizenship and equal rights for the Rohingya in Malaysia during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ahmad and his wife have lodged seven reports of threats and harassment with Malaysian police but there has been a lack of action by authorities to either effectively investigate the threats against him or provide him protection, the statement said.
“These threats have had a serious impact on Ahmad’s health and well-being. Security concerns have prevented him from appearing in public for the past two years. It has also severely affected his family — the toll has been worsened by Zafar Ahmad’s lack of access to treatment and inability to maintain his livelihood,” it added
On Dec. 3, 2021, Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, sent a joint communication to the Malaysian government seeking a response within 60 days.
“It is the obligation of the UNHCR to protect Zafar when he faces threats to security and life following his peaceful and legitimate work as a human rights defender"
This raised concerns about the government’s commitment to protect human rights defenders and uphold international human rights law and standards, the civil society groups said.
“The government finally responded on March 28, stating that following an investigation the authorities have decided that no further action will be taken, which is extremely disappointing,” they added.
The groups are extremely concerned that Zafar Ahmad has not received urgently needed protection from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“It is the obligation of the UNHCR to protect Zafar when he faces threats to security and life following his peaceful and legitimate work as a human rights defender. Further, the delay in the resettlement process only puts Zafar’s life at risk and jeopardizes his physical health, mental health and well-being including that of his family members,” the statement said.
Online attacks have not only been aimed against Ahmad but also against Rohingya refugees since the pandemic began, resulting in the escalating spread of xenophobia, hate speech, rights abuses and harassment against Rohingya, refugees and migrants.
In light of the concerns, the civil society groups have recommended that the Malaysian government take immediate measures to protect Ahmad and his family, reactivate the investigation into the threats against him and ensure that the investigation is thorough and make public the results.
They further demanded that the mainstream media deliver accurate information, particularly involving the vulnerable refugee community in Malaysia, to prevent hate speech, xenophobia and crimes against them, while social media platforms must take responsibility for smear campaigns, spreading false accusations, hate speech and xenophobia against Ahmad, Rohingya refugees and migrants.
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