KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 25 — Six organisations are demanding an apology from the Umno-linked New Straits Times newspaper for claiming they were part of a plot to destabilise the government.
The newspaper was given 48 hours to apologise, failing which the non-governmental organisations would consider legal action.
In its September 21 front-page story, the NST had reported that a number of NGOs including human rights group Suaram and electoral reform organisation Bersih had received funds from foreign sources as part of a plot to destabilise the government.
Activists said today they are now the target of a smear campaign after a number of newspapers aligned with Barisan Nasional (BN) published stories alleging organisations like Suaram and Bersih took foreign funds as part of a plot to destabilise the country.
It is understood the stories appearing in mainstream newspapers and television news programmes are based on a skeleton plan produced by Putrajaya.
Activists had previously acknowledged to The Malaysian Insider that many of their organisations had received funds from foreign and local sources, but said the money was meant to help finance their respective causes such as to promote democratic practices and campaign for human rights.
They said the funds and their sources were not part of any plot, as suggested by the NST headline.
A host of local non-governmental organisations were named in the NST report, including Suaram, Lawyers for Liberty, Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Bersih) and the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ).
A similar story also appeared in MCA-owned newspaper The Star. Both stories quoted sources and unnamed investigators probing the financial background of the NGOs.
The stories pointed out that RM20 million had been received by the NGOs between 2005 and last year from foreign sources such as the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the New York-based Open Society Institute (OSI).
It was not stated why the organisations were under investigation and what they had been doing to destabilise the government or the country.
But many of these organisations have been involved in recent years with campaigns for electoral reforms and for human rights.
Today, six of the NGOs named said the report was unfounded and written in bad faith.
“We are taking this very seriously. The matter is in the hands of our lawyers,” Bersih co-chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan told reporters today.
“We expect to see a response from New Straits Times within 48 hours, failing which we will take all the necessary steps and all the steps that are open to us under the law.”
The demand was also endorsed by Suaram, CIJ, Lawyers for Liberty, Merdeka Center and the Southeast Asian Centre for E-Media (Seacem).
On Sunday former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad suggested that currency speculator George Soros was attempting to usurp political power from the BN government by appointing his own leader as the next prime minister of Malaysia. Dr Mahathir made the statement when asked to comment on several local NGOs that were in the limelight recently after the Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism Ministry called on the Registrar of Societies to investigate Suaram, which had received funds from Soros-linked organisations.
Today, The Malaysian Insider reported that Soros not only funds pro-democracy groups in Malaysia, but has also funded activities of the Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) which was led at one time by his chief Malaysian critic’s daughter, Datuk Paduka Marina Mahathir.
The US citizen has been in the limelight lately after government-friendly mainstream newspapers and a television station said his Open Society Institute (OSI) had funded pro-democracy groups out to destabilise the BN government under Datuk Seri Najib Razak. The media did not offer proof of any destabilisation efforts.