Joint Media Statement - 16/2/2011
We, the undersigned civil society groups, are gravely concerned over the demands and threat of legal action for defamation against human rights lawyer, activist and blogger Charles Hector by Asahi Kosei (M) Sdn. Bhd. According to a letter to Hector from the firm’s lawyers dated 11 February 2011, the company is demanding RM10 million from him within seven days as damages for libel. Failing which, he is being threatened with a defamation suit.
The company was reacting to postings in Hector’s blog that highlighted the plight of 31 Burmese migrant workers in Asahi Kosei who raised their grievances to their employer, and the reactions thereafter that included threats, termination and even attempted deportation back to Burma, Asahi Kosei is also demanding from Hector the removal of the blog postings and a public apology to the company to be published on his blog and in all major national English newspapers.
According to the joint media statement titled “Asahi Kosei (M) Sdn. Bhd must respect Human Rights and Workers’ Rights. Reinstate Thiha Soe and Aung San without Loss of Benefits” which 82 migration and human rights organisations worldwide have endorsed (as at 16 February 2011), the Myanmar workers had made many complaints regarding non-payment of agreed wages and unlawful deductions from their wages as well as alterations of terms and conditions of work.
The workers, who confirmed the facts of their complaints, also alleged that they had been harassed by management “agents” (employees) and forced to agree to unfavourable terms and conditions including paying a penalty of RM50 per day of absence (RM50 for two days under new contract terms), which was far more than their basic pay of RM20 per day (RM23 per day under new contract terms). The workers also wanted paid medical leave, which is an entitlement in law. The migrant workers concerned were also preparing to lodge a complaint with the Labour Department to help resolve the problems they claimed to face.
Hector disclosed in a blog posting on 15 February that he had sent two e-mails on 8 and 9 February to the company raising the workers problems with them but he did not receive any reply from Asahi Kosei to refute the contents of the two e-mails or to deny its involvement in the dispute. Sadly, the company’s first and only response was made through its lawyer’s letter of 11 February, as mentioned above.
Asahi Kosei also claimed through its lawyers that it is not the employer of the Myanmar workers concerned and has no obligation to pay their wages directly to them or to supply accommodation or household appliances and utilities to them. The firm claims that the outsourcing agent (who has not been identified by the company) is the real employer of the migrant workers and thus has responsibility over them.
Asahi Kosei, therefore, alleges that Hector has committed libel by publicising the issue in his blog and naming the firm as the employer of the Myanmar migrant workers concerned.
We, the undersigned groups, call on Asahi Kosei (M) Sdn. Bhd. to review and withdraw its demand and intended legal action against Charles Hector. It is against public interest to go after human rights activists, bloggers and media personnel who highlight any alleged human rights violations. Moreover, the company was given the opportunity to inform Hector of any inaccuracies in the information given to him when he made enquiries in two emails to the firm. The company has not explored all avenues in resolving the problem faced by the workers amicably before resorting to this demand and threat of legal action; it should focus its attention on resolving these problems.
In our view, Asahi Kosei’s action is unreasonable, arbitrary and heavy handed; aimed at the suppression of free expression and workers’ complaints. The company also appears to be pushing its responsibility for the workers to a dubious unknown and unnamed party and, directly or indirectly, obstructing the right of workers to legally resolve their labour problems through the proper channels available to both workers and employers.
It would also be commendable for Asahi Kosei to immediately reinstate the two workers and engage in the dispute resolution process according to Malaysian labour laws, with Labour Department intervention as legally provided in this country.
Likewise, we urge all employers to engage in the dispute resolution process according to employment legislation and to adhere to all relevant labour and other legislation in Malaysia which apply to local as well as migrant workers in this country. Employers should recognise and respect the rights of all workers, their human rights and human dignity.
We reiterate that all workers, including migrant workers, are human beings with inherent rights and fundamental freedoms. They are not commodities to be imported, exploited and deported at the whims of employers or their recruitment and outsourcing agents.
16 February 2011
- Centre for Policy Initiatives
- Centre for Orang Asli Concerns
- Parti Sosialis Malaysia
- Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)
- Civil Society Committee of Lim Lian Geok Cultural Development Centre
- LLG Cultural Development Centre Bhd
- Persatuan Pendidikan Sekolah-Sekolah Persendirian (Cina), Pulau Pinang
- Borneo Resources Institute, Malaysia (Brimas)
- Citizens International (Penang)
- Asian Migrants Centre
- Building and Woodworkers International (Switzerland)
- Women Institute for Reseach Development and Advancement (WIRDA)
- International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development
- Writers Alliance for Media Independence (Wami)
- Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower)
- Thai Committee for Refugees (TCR)
- Human Rights Education Institute of Burma
- Human Rights Working Group-Indonesia
- International Movement for a Just World
- Norwegian Burma Committee
- Workers Assistance Center, Philippines
- Semarak Cerlang Nusa – Consultancy, Research, Education for Social Transformation (SCN-CREST), Indonesia
- Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS), Indonesia
- Judicial System Monitoring Programme (JSMP), Timor Leste
- Union Network International-Malaysian Liaison Council (UNI-MLC)
- Free Burma Coalition – Philippines (FBC-Phils)
- Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID), Philippines
- KKSP Foundation, Indonesia
- Health Equity Initiatives
- Migrants Trade Union (MTU)
- NGOs in Myanmar Web Portal
- Myanmar Youth Knowledge Initiative
- SOS (Save Ourselves), Penang
- Penang Watch
- Forum for Democracy in Burma
- Project Maje, Portland, Oregon, USA
- MAP Foundation, Thailand
- Burmese Relief Center, Japan
- Migrante International, Philippines
- Bar Council Malaysia
- Koalisi Perempuan Indonesia Untuk Keadilan dan Demokrasi (Indonesian Women’s Coalition for Justice and Democracy)
- Lee Siew Hwa, blogger
- Consumers’ Association of Penang
- Sahabat Alam (Friends of the Earth) Malaysia
- Third World Network
- Teras Pengupayaan Melayu
- Think Centre, Singapore
- Khmer Institute of Democracy
- Publish What You Pay, Indonesia
- Chin Democracy and Human Rights Network, South Korea
- Solidaritas Perempuan-Women’s Solidarity for Human Rights, Indonesia
- Yaung Chi Oo Workers Association (YCOWA)
- Centre of Democracy and Human Rights Studies (Demos), Indonesia
- Burma Partnership
- Task Force on Asean and Burma
- Solidaritas Indonesia untuk Burma (SIB)
- Mario Art, Blogger, www.martoart.multiply.com
- Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
- Housing Rights Task Force Cambodia
- Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), Singapore
- The National Human Rights Society (Hakam)
- Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti
- Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR)
- Pergerakan Indonesia
- Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB)
- Centre for Trade Unions and Human Rights, Philippines
- Centre for Human Rights of Islamic University of Indonesia/Pusat Studi Hak Asasi Manusia Universitas Islam Indonesia (Pusham UII)
- Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (Adhoc)
- Burma Centre, Delhi
- Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organisation Malaysia (Merhrom)
- MAUAH (Working Group for Asean Human Rights Mechanism, Singapore)
- Tanjung Bunga Residents’ Association (TBRA)
- People’s Forum on Burma, Japan
- Burmese Rohingya Association in Japan (BRAJ)
- Taman Sri Nibong Residents’ Association
- Friends of Pakatan Rakyat UK