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Rights group urges govt to act on anti-Rohingya sentiments online

Lawyers for Liberty says this would be a more worthwhile endeavour than going after those who question the government's integrity.

Staff Writers
2 minute read
Screenshots of social media posts on the Rohingya community in Malaysia.
Screenshots of social media posts on the Rohingya community in Malaysia.

Rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) today hit out at calls for violence against the Rohingya making the rounds on social media, urging the government to intervene to protect the group from any physical harm. 

It also questioned the government's silence on the issue "despite its insistence on monitoring social media sites", saying investigations appear to be focused on those who query the government's integrity. 

"The Rohingya are a truly vulnerable group. They are refugees forced to flee their country for fear of their lives, undocumented with no financial stability due to being unable to work, who now not only have to deal with harassment from unscrupulous enforcement authorities, but must also deal with the rising xenophobic sentiment from the populace. 

"There is a risk that if this sentiment is not quelled, they will face real threats of harm by people who mistakenly view them as threats to Malaysian society," it said in a statement. 

Malaysia is said to be home to more than 100,000 Rohingya from Myanmar fleeing the crackdown at home. 

LFL estimated that 58% of the 182,990 refugees and asylum seekers currently in the country are from the community. 

"Despite Malaysia not ratifying the 1951 Refugee Convention, it has historically allowed refugees in our country on humanitarian grounds," LFL director Zaid Malek said. 

"The government has a long-standing cooperation with UNHCR in facilitating the asylum seekers and refugees for resettlement to their destination country. 

"As such, it is incumbent on the government to protect the safety of all asylum seekers and refugees in Malaysia on the same humanitarian ground, for if not then we are just further subjecting them to the harm that they have fought to escape from their country of origin."

Adding that refugees are "not foreign enemies", he said this narrative must not be allowed to continue. 

"The government must intervene to stifle the active campaign circulating online to vilify the Rohingya, to protect them from those who wish to bring them actual harm," he said.  

"The outrageous xenophobic content being spread around and the call to violence that usually accompanies it must be dealt with swiftly by the Malaysian Multimedia and Multimedia Communication. 

"Should it escalate to actual risk of physical harm, the police must intervene and criminal action taken against those responsible. This endeavour would be more worthwhile than expending resources to hound people who purportedly injure the reputation and integrity of the government."