The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH) condemns in the strongest terms the attempt on lawyer-activist Siti Zabedah Kasim’s life through the planting of an improvised explosive device (IED) on 21 July. The bomb was discovered behind her car tyre by a mechanic who was servicing her car. The bomb disposal unit confirmed that it was an IED.
Even though it is still unascertained whether the motivation is political, business or personal, the attempt on Siti should be classified as ‘violence against human rights defenders and professionals’, as happened commonly to politicians, lawyers, journalists and other professionals working on public interests in some authoritarian countries.
The government must show a zero-tolerance attitude to this assassination attempt on Siti, which by using a bomb, constitutes an act of terrorism that may harm others. If this becomes a trend, it will cause as much harm as the use of the 3Rs. PM Anwar Ibrahim himself must make a clear stand that he will nip this attempt in the bud before such violence becomes part of our political and societal culture.
Siti is not the first victim of such violence targeting human rights defenders and professionals in Malaysia. Bill Kayong of Sarawak, another activist in indigenous rights like Siti, was assassinated in 2016 but only the hired killer was sentenced to death while three businessmen who were charged, including one who fled to Australia, for abetting, walked free. Previously, BERSIH’s former Chairperson, Maria Chin Abdullah too had received threats with bullet and blood.
The government must make sure that Siti Kasim does not become another Bill Kayong and should provide her bodyguards upon her request. We applaud the police for handling this seriously but such violence will only cease if the perpetrators and abettors are caught, charged and convicted.
Stopping violence targeting human rights defenders and professionals is the duty of all parties, politicians, civil society groups and opinion leaders. Once this comes to be seen as a convenient way to silence dissents and critics, everyone stands a chance to be the next victim.
We urge the media, professional bodies and civil society groups to speak up and monitor the response of the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, party leaders, and politicians so that we may see the perpetrators and abettors of this attempt of terrorism be brought to justice soon. Journalists must remember that once Malaysia slips towards the direction of countries like Russia and the Philippines, journalists would be one of the most dangerous professions.
BERSIH Steering Committee