Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Media Statement: 79 Groups : '...withdraw intended legal action against Charles Hector "

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
Endorsed by:
  1. Aliran
  2. MagickRiver
  3. Centre for Policy Initiatives
  4. Centre for Orang Asli Concerns
  5. Parti Sosialis Malaysia
  6. Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)
  7. Civil Society Committee of Lim Lian Geok Cultural Development Centre
  8. LLG Cultural Development Centre Bhd
  9. Persatuan Pendidikan Sekolah-Sekolah Persendirian (Cina), Pulau Pinang
  10. Borneo Resources Institute, Malaysia (Brimas)
  11. Citizens International (Penang)
  12. Asian Migrants Centre
  13. Building and Woodworkers International (Switzerland)
  14. Women Institute for Reseach Development and Advancement (WIRDA)
  15. International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development
  16. Writers Alliance for Media Independence (Wami)
  17. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower)
  18. Thai Committee for Refugees (TCR)
  19. Human Rights Education Institute of Burma
  20. Human Rights Working Group-Indonesia
  21. International Movement for a Just World
  22. Norwegian Burma Committee
  23. Workers Assistance Center, Philippines
  24. Semarak Cerlang Nusa – Consultancy, Research, Education for Social Transformation (SCN-CREST), Indonesia
  25. Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS), Indonesia
  26. Judicial System Monitoring Programme (JSMP), Timor Leste
  27. Union Network International-Malaysian Liaison Council (UNI-MLC)
  28. Free Burma Coalition – Philippines (FBC-Phils)
  29. Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID), Philippines
  30. KKSP Foundation, Indonesia
  31. Health Equity Initiatives
  32. Migrants Trade Union (MTU)
  33. NGOs in Myanmar Web Portal
  34. Myanmar Youth Knowledge Initiative
  35. SOS (Save Ourselves), Penang
  36. Penang Watch
  37. MEO-Net
  38. Forum for Democracy in Burma
  39. Project Maje, Portland, Oregon, USA
  40. MAP Foundation, Thailand
  41. Burmese Relief Center, Japan
  42. Migrante International, Philippines
  43. Bar Council Malaysia
  44. Koalisi Perempuan Indonesia Untuk Keadilan dan Demokrasi (Indonesian Women’s Coalition for Justice and Democracy)
  45. Lee Siew Hwa, blogger
  46. Consumers’ Association of Penang
  47. Sahabat Alam (Friends of the Earth) Malaysia
  48. Third World Network
  49. Teras Pengupayaan Melayu
  50. Think Centre, Singapore
  51. Khmer Institute of Democracy
  52. Publish What You Pay,  Indonesia
  53. Chin Democracy and Human Rights Network, South Korea
  54. Solidaritas Perempuan-Women’s Solidarity for Human Rights, Indonesia
  55. Yaung Chi Oo Workers Association (YCOWA)
  56. Centre of Democracy and Human Rights Studies (Demos), Indonesia
  57. Burma Partnership
  58. Task Force on Asean and Burma
  59. Solidaritas Indonesia untuk Burma (SIB)
  60. Mario Art, Blogger,
  61. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
  62. Housing Rights Task Force Cambodia
  63. Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), Singapore
  64. The National Human Rights Society (Hakam)
  65. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti
  66. Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR)
  67. Pergerakan Indonesia
  68. Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB)
  69. Centre for Trade Unions and Human Rights, Philippines
  70. Centre for Human Rights of Islamic University of Indonesia/Pusat Studi Hak Asasi Manusia Universitas Islam Indonesia (Pusham UII)
  71. Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (Adhoc)
  72. Burma Centre, Delhi
  73. Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organisation Malaysia (Merhrom)
  74. MAUAH (Working Group for Asean Human Rights Mechanism, Singapore)
  75. Tanjung Bunga Residents’ Association (TBRA)
  76. People’s Forum on Burma, Japan
  77. Burmese Rohingya Association in Japan (BRAJ)
  78. Taman Sri Nibong Residents’ Association
  79. Friends of Pakatan Rakyat UK

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