On 27 July, Heidy Quah Gaik Li, was charged with offending and insulting the authorities with a Facebook post, in which she had described the trauma faced by a refugee mother, who had just given birth to her child.
Has the government of Malaysia gone bonkers? Why do Malaysians feel as if they are treading on eggshells all the time? Have the ministers and heads of department extremely long toes? If the authorities have nothing to hide, then why do they get so upset?
Here are three names. Two are foreign, one is Malaysian. All are women. They are Heidy Quah Gaik Li, Clare Rewcastle-Brown and Valerie Azure. The first two were born in Malaysia. whilst Azure, a Russian, was stranded at KLIA, at the start of the pandemic.
These women were helping various communities in Malaysia, but soon fell foul of the authorities. They became targets for cybertroopers and trolls on social media. They were threatened, and faced questioning by the police.
By chance and not by design, these women helped the local communities, instead of waiting for assistance. Their success created too much awareness of the inadequacies of the government. They highlighted issues which Malaysians were hesitant to discuss, or did not know existed.
Instead of working together to resolve the problem, the authorities overreacted. They attempted to silence these women, with bully tactics and the law. The reasons for their insecurities are obvious. The shortcomings of the system had been exposed.
Are the authorities suffering from false pride? Can’t they overhaul the system? An informed and knowledgeable community is able to contribute to society and not be dependent on the state.
Some ministers and heads of departments probably felt humiliated, that three women had managed to expose their failures and accomplish so much with limited resources and funding. For the officials, face was important.
Heidy Quah Gaik Li
The Malaysian born Heidy founded an NGO called Refuge for the Refugees, to provide education for refugee children, when she was 18.
In June 2017, 27-year-old Quah received the ‘Queen’s Young Leaders’ medal from Queen Elizabeth II in London for her work with refugees.
Throughout this pandemic, she and her NGO has fed around 50,000 people but all hell broke loose, when in July 2020, when she described on Facebook, the deplorable conditions, the beatings and deaths in refugee detention centres.
She shared the experience of a refugee woman who had just given birth. There was a shortage of milk and diapers for the baby, and sanitary pads and private space, for the mother.
Quah was vilified on social media, insults were hurled at her, her race and her family. She was also told that she should hang herself.
Her reason for highlighting the alleged mistreatment was not to shame anyone, but because it was important the refugees are treated with dignity, and we show compassion, more humanity and less hatred.
Today, 27 July, a year after her Facebook posting, Quah was charged in a magistrate court, for making a Facebook posting on the alleged mistreatment of refugees at the Immigration detention centre in Putrajaya. The authorities deemed that the post was offensive and an insult to others.
Rewcastle-Brown is British, but was born in Sarawak. The investigative journalist was very concerned about the environmental impact of large-scale deforestation, and the destruction of diversity from oil palm plantation. These activities threatened the indigenous population of Sarawak, the wildlife which the jungles support and exposed the rampant corruption which the former Chief Miniser, Taib Mahmud and his cronies have perpetuated.
When her attention turned to 1MDB, the disgraced Najib Abdul Razak and Jho Low, in the world’s biggest corruption scandal, Rewcastle-Brown’s life was changed.
She was followed in the streets of London, her website was blocked and various Malaysian individuals tried to sue her, in an attempt to silence her. She was banned from Malaysia and cybertroopers threatened her. These efforts failed and when Pakatan Harapan won, in GE-14, Rewcastle-Brown’s ban from Malaysia, was overturned.
Last year, at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, governments all over the world shut their borders, in an attempt to stem the spread of the disease. Russian Valerie Azure and her young son, were returning to Thailand, when they were stranded at KLIA, because Thailand had closed its borders.
Ten days later, Azure was given leave to remain in Malaysia, and helped friends distribute food aid to an Orang Asli community in Tapah. When chatting with the village head, Azure was told about the challenges they faced. This prompted her to volunteer to teach the children of Pos Woh.
The generosity of the expatriate community in Kuala Lumpur enabled Azure to secure lorry loads of donations such as books, computers, toys and furniture.
With these, she established an educational centre at the community hall in Pos Woh. The villagers, and especially the children, adored her for making learning “fun”, but back in the headquarters of the Department of Orang Asli Development (JAKOA), or more importantly, in Putrajaya, the Minister of Rural Affairs, was fuming.
Without any funding, Azure had put the pathetic efforts of the ministry and JAKAO officials, to shame, but that was not her intention.
Its all about face
These three women helped people, but their motives were misunderstood, and they received the ire of the authorities.
We can support them by continuing to expose the truth and by highlighting their efforts on social media. We can write to our MPs and ADUNs and where possible, highlight these events to an international audience. If y