Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower) strongly abhors the slew of vile attacks against activist and writer, Maryam Lee, following her public expression on #UndiRosak.

Instead of demonstrating maturity when engaging in the discourse, many supporters of the opposition resorted to unwarranted sexist, misogynist and extremist harassment against Maryam. This included the targeting of her identity as a young woman.

Many of these attackers have even used her pictures found online without her knowledge and consent.

They manipulated her images and modified them into sexually explicit ones. These images are accompanied by extremely demeaning and sexualised insults and name-calling.

Many have also falsely accused her of “receiving bribes from the ruling coalition”, “betraying the people”, and “working for Najib”.

Others have belittled her views by saying that she “needs a therapist and some introspection”, is “brain damaged” and so on.

This includes many people who are known for their activism and progressive views, predominantly men but also some women.

It is also disheartening to see fellow activists who hold similar views on the #UndiRosak campaign fail to support Maryam. Instead, they said if someone presents her/his views in public, she/he should be open to be attacked.

Such a view underscores the reality that women are attacked more severely than their male allies for speaking up on the same issues, despite the valid and substantial points women make.

Engaging in a discourse does not mean we only respect those views that agree with ours, but also to be able to respect and listen no matter how these expressions and opinions are alien or new to us.

Maryam’s privacy was invaded when her photos and personal data were used without her consent.

What is more distasteful are the vile efforts to silence a voice that does not fit into the narratives of the opposition’s supporters.

Let us all be reminded that everyone, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, religion, political belief and so on, has the right to freedom of expression and opinion.

Any impediment to these freedoms must be addressed and condemned.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of freedom of expression, David Kaye, had in March 2017 said: “The internet should be a platform for everyone to exercise their rights to freedom of opinion and expression, but online gender-based abuse and violence assaults basic principles of equality under international law and freedom of expression.

“Such abuses must be addressed urgently, but with careful attention to human rights law.”

Privilege and power in society

The right to freedom of expression and opinion is often used to justify vile, sexist and misogynist attacks against another, especially a woman.

It is also generally perceived and taken for granted that everyone has the same right and power when it comes to their ability to express.

Empower’s 2017 report on women’s experiences on social media, “Voice, Visibility and A Variety of Viciousness” shows that our expressions, thoughts and opinions are closely tied to our privilege and power in society.

It is regulated subconsciously and socially by the dominant narrative and by the patriarch.

Often times when a woman is attacked and harassed online, she is deemed to be complicit in her own violence and harassment, because she is deemed as not speaking the way that is socially acceptable.

A corrupted and abusive government oppresses everyone. But sexism, misogyny and gender inequalities oppress women and gender non-conforming people.

We urge all parties to halt all forms of attacks and harassment against Maryam and those supporting #UndiRosak.

We urge everyone who is engaging in the discourse to refrain from impulsive and destructive personal attacks, but to debate on the points raised.

Those who are able to influence others and defend the right to speak up without resorting to hate speech, should help protect freedom of expression for all, especially for young women like Maryam, and women in general.

They can help do this by ensuring a safe space for meaningful discourse, both online and offline.

Empower is a women’s rights organisation.

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