A representative of Comango - a civil society coalition outlawed last week by the Home Ministry - has dared the authorities to arrest her for participating in its activities.
Chew Swee Yoke (right), a founding member of the Women's Lawyers Association, said it would only "embarrass" the government if the case goes to court.
"(The ban) is to intimidate and frighten people (from participating) as they can be charged, although under what Act we don't know. I am here today ready to be arrested, that's why I came in my walking shoes and not court shoes, said Chew.
"I would love it if they charge me as it would be an interesting court case and they would be so embarrassed (in court).”
Chew, who was dressed in a dark pantsuit and pink sports shoes, said this at a press conference called by Comango today.
Comango is an acronym for the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs for the Universal Period Review (UPR) process, and is made up of 52 civil society groups.
The UPR process is a United Nations mechanism for peer review of member states' human rights compliance.
Comango members include Pusat Komas, whose representative Jerald Joseph(left) said the ban has led to UN representatives writing to the Putrajaya, seeking an explanation.
"We have submitted information to (UN) Special Rapporteurs ...There is now communication with the government (from the Rapporteurs),” he said.
"There is already an embarrassing press statement released by the UN asking Malaysia to stop reprisals (against civil society groups) and to review the Societies Act.”
Suaram representative Yap Swee Seng said that, as the ban contravenes two Human Rights Council (HRC) resolutions, Malaysia will also be rebuked in the HRC annual report which will be debated in the UN General Assembly.
He said the resolutions condemn reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society and demand that governments take action against perpetrators, including non-state quarters.
He said the resolutions were adopted by the HRC in 2009 and 2013, while Malaysia was a member. Its second term ended last month.
Empower representative Honey Tan said the government is “shooting itself in the foot” by banning the largest Malaysian coalition of civil society groups to participate in the UPR process.
The process did not conclude last October, when Comango submitted its stakeholder report, but will continue in March when the government states which of the 249 human rights recommendations made for Malaysia by other countries will be adopted.
“Comango plans to make an oral intervention at the HRC then ... Come March 20, the government will have a hard time at the HRC (when it says) all these things (about supporting human rights) while the largest coalition (in Malaysia) is banned,” said Tan.
She reiterated that Comango believes the ban is illegal as the Societies Act 1966 states that only the home minister can declare a society illegal, and not the secretary-general.
Among reasons given for the ban was that not all NGOs under Comango are registered under the Act; that the coalition promotes rights that are not in line with Islam; and that many member-groups are “non-Islamic” organisations.
“This is not a requirement under the Societies Act,” Tan noted.
Comango has been under attack by some Muslim NGOs and BN lawmakers, who claimed that the coalition is promoting rights for apostasy from Islam and same-sex marriage.
Taking these accusations head on, Sisters in Islam representative Suri Kempe(right) said that what Comango is seeking is protection of all citizens from harm, harassment and violence.
For example, she said, the Education Ministry had sanctioned boot camps for schoolchildren “arbitrarily deemed effeminate”, while non-Muslim parents are denied rights to their children through unilateral conversions.
“Is protection of women and children unIslamic? What Islam are they talking about? The Islam I grew up with has God that is loving, just and merciful, not one which promotes violence towards women and children,” she said.
The coalition also stressed that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it urges Malaysia to ratify, does not “encourage apostasy” and has been ratified by Muslim-majority countries like Bahrain, Pakistan, Indonesia and Afghanistan.
Yap added that Comango's stakeholder report to the UPR had toucheed on a broad range of human rights trangressions, from deaths in custody to the right to health, as well as corruption.
As such, he said, silencing Comango is also silencing criticism of issues like large outflows of illicit funds which in turn affects the livelihood of the ordinary Malaysian.
“Why are groups defending religion not also taking on this issue of corruption?” he asked.