Press Statement BERSIH 2.0 Sabah (10 July 2019): Do Not Threaten to Silence Civil Society

Bersih 2.0 (Sabah) condemns the statement made by Datuk Peter Anthony, the Minister of Infrastructure Development, as though he wants to control, and prevent the civil society from speaking up to defend local communities affected by government projects.

According to a Borneo Post article, Peter Anthony said that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as PACOS should abide by the law and regulations of the state and should not be allowed to incite the people. He added that he will propose for an update on the act to govern the NGOs.

Statements such as these are truly embarrassing and do not reflect on the people’s aspiration to change the past government that shut down and silence the people’s voices. Civil society organisations, especially groups that represent the communities affected by mega government projects, will echo the voices of their communities seeing that they will be affected and displaced from locations of the mega projects.

In other words, Peter Anthony must respect the right to freedom of speech as enshrined in the Article 10 of the Federal Constitution. Citizens at the lower rung of society have only their voices as a channel to criticise and disapprove government policies that do not take into account the interests of the community and the people at large.

Sabahans’ interests are often sacrificed and preyed on by the one entrusted to protect. The freedom of speech and a strong civil society can prevent this from recurring.  The Minister’s statement raises a question: “Is this to defend the predator?” If not, then the government can face the civil society’s scrutiny and checks with a bold and open heart – to respond to scepticism with facts and logic, instead of fear, to the point of wanting to silence the people.

Sabahans changed the previous government with the hope that democracy and freedom of speech will be more vibrant. As a minister, one should aspire to be closer to, and understand the demands of civil society organisations, not threaten to control for the sake of silencing the voices of the rakyat.

Issued by:
Bersih 2.0 (Sabah)