Koh Jun Lin (MKini)
1:24PM Sep 25, 2012
Media reports alleging that civil society groups are receiving foreign funding in a plot to destabilise the government could be a prelude to a crackdown on them, said Bersih co-chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan.
“Such disparaging reports (as the one on Sept 21 by the New Straits Times) lay the groundwork for a crackdown on civil society as can be seen from the on-going state harassment campaign against Suaram and the possible use of even more draconian measures,” she said.
She was speaking at a joint press conference today alongside representatives of Suaram, Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), Lawyers for Liberty, Medeka Centre, and Southeast Asian Centre for E-Media (Seacem), which were also named in the article.
“We are very worried: Could this be a prelude? Could the government be building the context or justification for bigger things to come?” asked Seacem project manager Sean Ang, pointing to pointed to Singapore’s policy of blocking foreign funding for some NGOs as an example.
In its report last Friday, the New Straits Times had reported that the groups are among those receiving funding from the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy, which had supposedly helped to “destabilise legitimate government and replaced them with client proxies.”
The groups slammed the report as one-sided and irresponsible, in addition to demanding an unreserved apology within 48 hours from 11am today.
Ambiga also said the group views the attacks as an attempt to distract public attention from issues such as corruption and fair elections, as well as to stifle information these NGOs provide to help citizens make their decisions.
CIJ executive director Masjaliza Hamzah (left) complained that the report had forced her to redirect limited resources to deal with the fallout.
“Instead of us doing our work on media freedom issues or defending the freedom of expression, what it (the report) has done is to force us to make calls, write emails, reply to this, reply to that…” she said.