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Malaysian NGO coalition receives Taiwan human rights award

2017/12/10 16:41:43

Legislative Speaker Su Jia-chyuan and Bersih 2.0 Chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah

Taipei, Dec. 10 (CNA) The 2017 Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award was presented Sunday to a group of Malaysian non-governmental organizations, which identified the core issues facing democratic governments as the protection of rights and freedoms and the implementation of promises to the people.

The prestigious award to the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, known as Bersih 2.0, is recognition of the struggle for democracy and human rights in Malaysia, said Bersih 2.0 Chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah (瑪麗亞陳) at the award ceremony.

"Bersih has brought home the idea that democracy is possible," she said. "Malaysians have crossed ethnic lines, broken the culture of fear, and are united to work for democracy and democratic governance."

However, the real task in the struggle for democracy is how the government of the day respects and protects freedom and rights, Maria said.

"The challenge is how it closes the gap between promises and implementation of laws and policies," she said.

In her acceptance speech, Maria also thanked the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (TFD), the founder of the award, for its confidence in Bersih 2.0 and for the salute to Malaysians fighting a political system that she said is built on violence, racism, extremism, and repression of people.

"We are very impressed that the Taiwan government is also supporting our work as well," Maria said, referring to the fact that the TFD is a national democracy foundation established by the Taiwan government in 2003.

Bersih, meaning "clean" in Malay, was initially founded in 2006 by political parties and NGOs with the objective of pursuing electoral reforms. It was re-launched in 2009 as Bersih 2.0 by 93 NGOs with a wider agenda of monitoring all sides of political divide and representing the diversity in Malaysian civil society.

Since 2007, Bersih has led five mammoth rallies and become the most prominent voice in Malaysian civil society for democratic reforms, according to TFD.

Also in her speech, Maria said the Malaysian government, led by Prime Minister Najib Razak, has attacked human rights defenders through intimidation, suppression of free speech, detention, defamation, introducing draconian laws, planting seeds of distrust in civil society and all sorts of other means.

However, through the efforts of Bersih 2.0 and other NGOs, Malaysian voters have made it clear that racial hostility and generating hate, intolerance, violence, and poverty "have no place in our nation" and have brought institutional reforms and democratic practices to the national agenda, Maria said.

The democracy Malaysians are building is based on inclusiveness, consensus building, respect for rights and freedom, and free and fair elections so that people can enjoy peace and security and be free of hunger, she said.

The government can jail human rights defenders, or beat them up, but "can never break our spirits," Maria said. "Bersih will continue to contribute to democracy building in Asia and in the region."

In presenting the award, TFD Chairman and Legislative Speaker Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全) said fair and clean elections are the foundation of a solid democracy and an issue that is deliberated in every country.

"We hope that the award will encourage them (the Malaysians) to be persistent in the course of pursing democracy and to become a beacon of fair elections in Asia," he said.

According to the award ceremony program, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was listed to present the award, but 30 minutes before the start of the ceremony the Presidential Office said there had been a change of schedule and Tsai would not be able to attend.

(By Shih Hsiu-chuan)
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