BY UMSU PRESS
Acid attack threat on a young female activist: Culture of harassing, threatening and intimidating outspoken advocates | UMSU Press
Imagine one day you receive several anonymous threats from strangers for unknown reasons, just because you are an activist on certain issues.
Case of Shakila Zen
That is what our young environmental activist, Shakila Zen, had been through. It all started when Shakila Zen, who was fighting for our country’s nature conservation, especially forest reserves and coastal reclamation, received an anonymous package delivered to her parents’ home on 30th August 2021. The package contained a replica of a bloody hand, together with a letter that threatened to splash acid on Shakila and her friends, and burn her parent’s house. Not only that, she also received a text message with violent and sexual elements on WhatsApp, revealing that her personal information had already been exposed to the public without her consent.
Believing that this series of menacing events occurred may be due to her viral Tik Tok video showing the #Lawan rally, which took place on 31st July 2021, now her family members have advised her to take a break from her activism works in consideration of her safety. She lodged 2 police reports over these incidents at the Klang Utara Police District Headquarters on consecutive 30th and 31st August 2021. Besides, the police had invoked Article 507 (criminal threats) of the Criminal Code to investigate Shakila Zen's report. Societies such as PARTI Sosialis Malaysia (PSM), Sekretariat Solidariti Rakyat & All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) have stood up in solidarity with Shakila Zen to stop the harassment and intimidation targeted on the person’s gender and activism.
In the case of Shakila Zen, despite witnessing a toxic culture of harassing, threatening and intimidating outspoken advocates in our society, the gender-based violence on the women activists is clearly reflected from the said case.
Personal Freedom of Speech, Assembly and Association
Guaranteed by Article 10 of our Federal Constitution, we do have the freedom of speech, assembly and association. It is Shakila Zen’s democratic right to express herself: her views, her concerns and her stand, peacefully in the public. The public who disagrees with her stand and notion, should also always have the right to express their counter-argument rationally and make a constructive discussion regarding the issue addressed, without bullying people personally. Shaming, cyberbullying, harassing and even life-threatening others based on their stand differences shows their incompetence in forming a rational argument and moral failure. Moreover, threats behind anonymity are just pure disgrace and cowardice.
Activist? Celebrity? Criminal?
Some people may think that Shakila Zen has to be the one who takes the blame. They think that it was because of activists like Shakila Zen who did such an “aggressive” movement, violence was ignited and peace in our society was disturbed. Therefore, from their perspective, it was necessary for the activist, or so-called ‘criminal’, to receive harassment and intimidation as the consequences of their action. However, these activists do abide by the law when they voice out their concerns about our current system. They conduct peaceful protests with the hope to bring some justice to the issue they focus on. On the other hand, people who threaten others with acid attacks are the people who violate the law and cause chaos in our society.
You may think that activists should receive some criticism and hatred from the public when they are under public attention, just like a celebrity. We could not deny that people who get attention will possibly get unfavourable comments and dislikes. Even so, this should not be the case that we should normalize it, especially when it reaches harassment, intimidation and threats.
Women Activist & Gender-Based Violence
While men activists receive more on shaming and life-threatening, women activists do receive more sexual harassment than men. Some people tend to use inappropriate, sexual jokes on the women under the spotlights, who want to raise certain issues that tend to be neglected in society, especially gender equality. For example, Maya El Ammar, who is a feminist writer, activist and communications professional in Lebanon, has received sexual comments under her videos covering a range of human rights issues.
Our country is also facing challenges in stopping harassment and achieving gender equality, as you can still hear some hateful comments based on gender, such as “Women are more irrational and emotional.” or “Good girls don’t protest”. The reality is people like Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam, who wants to reveal her teacher’s “rape” joke, still sparks some group of people sexually harassing her.
Back to Shakila Zen’s case, a quote from PARTI Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) says: “Women human rights defenders and activists must be protected, and we need a comprehensive protection and reporting mechanism to improve the situation of women human rights defenders and activists in Malaysia.” It is a pure injustice to harass other people, both male and female. Why when it comes to women, we should stay quiet and normalize the event of them being harassed by other people and think that it is okay?
We stand in solidarity with Shakila Zen as we believe that people should be protected equally under the law without discrimination. We also call on the authorities to take immediate and stern action against those who resort to violence to respond to an opinion. People have the right to express their stand and to gather peacefully, as guaranteed by the Federal Constitution, but we never have the right to life-threatening or harassing others. Moreover, just because our activists are female, it does not mean that people have the chance or rights to sexually harass them. We should stand up together to stop the harassment culture and create a more rational, peaceful society.
Compiled References: https://linkmix.co/6239006
Written by Secretariat of Current Affairs 2021/2022
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