Bersih condemns conspiracy claims it’s sponsored by US govt

The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) has rejected conspiracy claims made online suggesting its movement is funded by the US government in an attempt to destabilise countries in the region.

“Bersih 2.0 is made aware of a series of videos produced by a foreign vlogger who made scurrilous allegations against us (Bersih), MalaysiaKini, the #Lawan protest organisers, and other pro-democracy movements in the region.

“(The vlogger claimed) that we are all funded by the US government to destabilise countries in the region, with the goal to encircle and contain China by removing all of the governments which are building constructive ties with China and replacing them with US-client regimes,” it said in a statement today.

Noting this is not the first time it has had such accusations hurled against them, Bersih 2.0 defended itself saying the group has been transparent on its funding which is audited annually, plus its financial reports are open to public scrutiny.

The group said it does not know the motivations behind the vlogger, who has been posting multiple conspiracy videos online purportedly claiming the protest movements across Southeast Asia were funded by the US government to serve its geopolitical interests.

“Bersih is a Malaysian people’s movement that is supported by citizens who are frustrated by decades of manipulation of electoral outcomes, corruption, bad policies, violations of human rights, and kleptocracy.

“The collective aspiration of millions of Malaysians gave birth to and sustains us till today,” Bersih 2.0 added.

The group stated that while it is true many developed countries including the US set aside funds for the promotion of democracy, good governance, and human rights before disbursing them in small grants, the issue should be examined factually and rationally.

“The questions we need to ask are whether there are strings attached to support the sponsoring countries’ geopolitical interests, the level of transparency and accountability of both the funder and funded.,

“And the quantum funded – whether it is sufficient to ‘overthrow’ a government that has full access to the country’s fund, legal and enforcement apparatus.” it said.

The group distances itself from the geopolitical competition between the US and China, which are the main theme of the conspiracy videos, and reiterated its focus on the issues at hand.

“Bersih 2.0 refuses to be lumped together with the narratives of international geopolitical contestations between the two superpowers – the US and China.

“Our struggles are the genuine expressions of our citizens for better governance of our country, respect for human rights, and for a more democratic country where our rich and diverse communities can co-exist harmoniously and sovereignly, free from foreign political or economic interference,” it said.

Conspiracy theories linking local NGOs and independent news outlets with foreign interference had been ongoing for a long time, with many of the organisations having to defend themselves repeatedly.

Most notably in 2013, four NGOs – Bersih 2.0, human rights group Suaram, Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), and pollster Merdeka Centre – successfully won a defamation suit against mainstream daily New Straits Times (NST) which ran a story accusing the groups, and Malaysiakini, of receiving foreign funding meant to “destabilise the government”.

NST later retracted the story and apologised to the four NGOs for publishing a fabricated story.

(First published by Malaysiakini on 27 August 2021: