We, the undersigned organisations, are deeply concerned about the situation of stateless Rohingya refugee and human rights defender Zafar Ahmad Abdul Ghani, President of Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization (MERHROM), who has been vilified and has received death threats since April 2020 after he was falsely accused of demanding Malaysian citizenship and equal rights for the Rohingya in Malaysia during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A systematic smear campaign has been launched against human rights defender Zafar Ahmad, his family, and his organisation, including online petitions, open letters, and press releases issued without verification and containing false, misleading, biased, and malicious information. The smear campaign implicates not only him and his family but also the refugees, particularly the Rohingya. He has also received death threats and threats of physical violence through phone calls, SMS, WhatsApp messages and various social media platforms.

Zafar Ahmad and his wife lodged a report at the Gombak police station in April 2020 based on the threats and harassment he received online. Still, two years on, there has been a lack of action by the authorities to either effectively investigate the threats against him or provide him protection. Zafar and his wife filed 7 reports of threats and harassment with Malaysian police, but they were never informed of the outcome of any of them.

These threats have seriously impacted Zafar Ahmad’s health and well-being. Security concerns have prevented him from appearing in public for the past 2 years. It has also severely affected his family – the toll has been worsened by Zafar Ahmad’s lack of access to treatment and inability to maintain his livelihood.

On 3 December 2021, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, sent a Joint Communication to the Malaysian government seeking a response within 60 days, which the government failed to do. As a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the delay in responding to the communication raises concerns about the government’s commitment to protect human rights defenders and uphold international human rights law and standards. The government finally responded on 28 March 2022, stating that the authorities have decided that no further action will be taken after an investigation, which is hugely disappointing.

We are also highly concerned that Zafar Ahmad has not received urgently-needed protection from the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Recognising Zafar is a registered refugee with the UNHCR and his situation as a human rights defender at risk, the UNHCR must protect Zafar when he faces threats to security and life following his peaceful and legitimate work as a human rights defender. Further, the delay in the resettlement process only puts Zafar’s life at risk and jeopardises his physical health, mental health, and well-being, including that of his family members.

The online attacks have been aimed against Zafar Ahmad but also against Rohingya refugees since the pandemic began, resulting in the escalating spread of xenophobia and hate speech and subsequent human rights abuses and harassment against the Rohingya refugees and migrants.

In light of the concerns raised above, we make the following recommendations:

– The Malaysian government must take immediate measures to protect Zafar Ahmad and his family, reactivate the investigation into the threats and harassment against him covered in the multiple police reports, ensure that the investigation is thorough and make public the results. Following this, perpetrators must also be brought to justice and held accountably;

– The UNHCR in Malaysia and headquarters in Geneva must prioritise Zafar’s protection and resettlement to a third country without delay. As a human rights defender, Zafar deserves more significant and timely international protection and resettlement to a third country so that he can resume his normal life with his family and continue his advocacy work safely;

– Countries willing to resettle refugees must prioritise Zafar’s case for immediate resettlement to protect him so that he can resume his work and advocacy to protect the rights of refugees and asylum seekers;

–  Mainstream media should deliver accurate information, particularly involving the vulnerable refugee community in the country, to prevent hate speech, xenophobia and crimes against them;

– Social media platforms must take responsibility for smear campaigns, spreading false accusations, hate speech and xenophobia against Zafar, the Rohingya, refugees and migrants.

The following groups have endorsed this statement:

  1. Tenaganita 
  2. ALTSEAN-Burma
  3. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  4. Amnesty International Malaysia
  5. Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM)
  6. Arakan Institute for Peace and Human Rights (AiPAH)
  7. Beyond Borders Malaysia
  8. Bridges Faith Initiative 
  9. Building and Wood Workers International Asia Pacific
  10. Burma Action Ireland
  11. Burma Campaign UK
  12. Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK    
  13. Campaign for a New Myanmar
  14. Canadian Burmese Rohingya Organization
  15. Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) Philippines
  16. Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) 
  17. Centro de estudios e Investigación sobre Mujeres CEIM
  18. Crane Center for Mass Atrocity Prevention 
  19. Fortify Rights
  20. Free Burma Campaign (South Africa)
  21. Free Rohingya Coalition
  22. ILPS Commission 10
  23. Info Birmanie 
  24. Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID)
  25. Institute for Asian Democracy
  26. Inter Pares
  27. International Campaign for the Rohingya
  28. International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL)
  29. Karen Human Rights Group
  30. KRuHA
  31. KUBU
  32. MAPMAS 
  33. Milk Tea Alliance Philippines
  34. MilkTeaAlliance
  35. Never Again Coalition
  36. No Business With Genocide
  37. Non Resident tharu society
  38. North-South Initiative
  39. Ohmsi Sdn Bhd
  40. Pacific Foundation for the Advancement of Women
  41. Parti MURBA
  42. Parti Sosialis Malaysia 
  43. Penang Stop Human Trafficking Campaign. 
  44. Persatuan Kesedaran
  45. Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)
  46. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor
  47. Queer Riot
  48. Reality of Aid – Asia Pacific
  49. Rohingya Action Ireland
  51. Rohingya Human Rights Initiative 
  52. Save Malaysia Stop Lynas 
  53. Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)
  54. Sedane Labour Resource Centre (LIPS)
  55. Serikat Buruh Kerakyatan Kalimantan Barat
  57. Social Justice and BD Youth Development
  58. SUARAM
  59. Thadou Chin Community
  60. The Asia Foundation in Timor Leste
  61. The Sound of Hope 
  62. U.S. Campaign for Burma
  63. Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
  64. Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA)

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