(May 11, 2020) — The International Human Rights Clinic and 83 partner organizations sent an open letter to Prime Minister Tan Sri Dato’ Haji Muhyiddin bin Haji Mohd. Yassin today, urging the Malaysian government to take action regarding threats of violence and ‘hate speech’ directed at ethnic Rohingya refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia.

As the letter states,

“Starting in the third week of April 2020, hateful messages targeting the Rohingya community in Malaysia have proliferated on social media platforms. Many posts included discriminatory and dehumanizing language and images as well as calls for Rohingya in Malaysia to be forcibly returned to Myanmar. Numerous online petitions calling for the expulsion of Rohingya were launched on Change.org and other platforms. Some petitions garnered thousands of signatures. Online users threatened prominent Rohingya activists, as well as their supporters, with physical attacks, murder and sexual violence.”

The letter calls on the Malaysian government to take steps to condemn the online hate speech, in order to “ensure that incendiary rhetoric does not trigger discriminatory acts or physical attacks.”

Read the full letter to the Prime Minister of Malaysia on Article 19’s website.

In a recent interview on Harvard Law Today, Yee Htun, Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law in the Clinic, noted the long history of hate speech against the Rohingya and contextualized recent events:

“Social media has played a large role […] and ultra-nationalist groups have strategically used it to portray the Rohingya as terrorists, illegal migrants, and opportunistic interlopers who are going to be a resource drain and engulf the country. Our clinic will be releasing a report soon on hate speech in Myanmar, [detailing] its drivers, main narratives, and its impact on religious and ethnic minorities and human rights defenders. In a way, our findings fit in with larger global populist movements. Whether we’re talking about in the U.S. or Hungary, this kind of “othering” rhetoric is frequently used to justify security measures and restrict immigration. And the pandemic offers a potential carte blanche excuse to exclude and infringe people’s human rights. Now, border countries that could have provided asylum are saying they need to safeguard their own countries from infection.”