For highlighting information about human rights violations suffered by 31 Burmese Migrant Workers who were working at Asahi Kosei(M) Sdn Bhd, in Charles Hector Blog, HR Defender, Charles Hector, has been sued for RM10 million by the said company. This is a deplorable act by this Japanese Company in Malaysia aimed at silencing people who highlight and bring to public notice injustices and human rights violations. It is also meant to put fear on others who have been or who may highlight situations of wrongs, injustice, human rights and worker rights violation in the future.
A legal suit, irrespective of whether the company wins or loses will create great hardship on individuals or civil society groups as there will be a lot of money, time and energy spend in getting lawyers, and fighting these cases in courts.
Charles Hector, a human rights defender, activist, blogger, writer and lawyer have been involved in human rights for a very long time. He has been involved in a variety of human rights issues including worker rights, migrant worker rights, abolition of the death penalty and torture, death in custody and extrajudicial killings by police, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and protest, student rights, and environmental issues.
On 8/2/2011, he received information from these 31 Burmese migrant workers, who were working at the Asahi Kosei(M) Sdn Bhd factory at Lot 3377, Jalan Perusahaan Utama, Taman Industri Selesa Jaya, 43300 Balakong, Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia. All these workers have been working in this factory since they arrived in Malaysia from Burma since about March-May 2010.
According to the workers, after they complained, amongst others, about their wages, wrongful deductions from their wages and their not getting paid sick leave, there was a reaction to their complaints where several people came and threatened them at the workers' 'hostel', took away their cooking utensils and materials used by the workers and switched off the electric main switch, and left the workers in the dark with no electricity. They also took 2 of the workers and sent them to the airport to be immediately sent back to Burma, but fortunately these 2 managed to escape.
Even before highlighting anything on the his blog, the Charles Hector Blog (http://charleshector.blogspot.com/), Charles Hector did sent an email to Asahi Kosei asking for their response, clarification, ete - but the company did not respond to that email.
Charles Hector then posted on the blog information that he had received from the affected workers.
On 11/2/2011, a Joint Media Statement was also issued by now over 80 different civil society groups from all over the world. This statement was also posted on the blog.
On 14/2/2011, Asahi Kosei's lawyers send Charles Hector the letter of demand threatening a legal suit unless he pays RM10 million (about USD 3.2 million), delete posts referring to this issue, and publicly apologize in the newspaper.
This threat to sue resulted in a lot of response from many different civil society groups, trade unions and even the Malaysian Bar. The Asian Human Rights Commission also started an Urgent Appeal (http://www.humanrights.asia/news/urgent-appeals/AHRC-UAC-033-2011/)
On 21/2/2011, Charles Hector received a court order dated 17/2/2011 asking that he remove all the said postings immediately, and also stops communicating in any manner about the issue. This was a gross violation of one's freedom of expression and opinion. He also received copies of the court papers, which showed that the company had filed the action in court on 14/2/2011, and also made an application for the court order on 14/2/2011. This application was done without the notice and knowledge of Charles Hector, and the court granted the order on 17/2/2011 without even giving Charles Hector the right to be heard.
The 65th Annual General Meeting (%u201CAGM%u201D) of the Malaysian Bar, a body representing more than 12,000 lawyers, on 12/3/2011 passed a resolution unanimously in support of Charles Hector.
The threat and action against people and/or organizations that highlight wrongs, human rights violations and injustices usually comes from the State and/or State linked bodies, and as such this action by Asahi Kosei in Malaysia may be seen as the first initiated by a private company/corporation, and it certainly is a bad precedence and is not in the interest of justice and human rights.
Asahi Kosei(M) Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of Asahi Kosei Japan Co. Ltd., which makes Die-Cast Aluminium Parts for HDD(Computer Parts), VTR, And Automotive parts for, amongst others, Hitachi Ltd Automotive Systems, Hitachi Seisakusho, Denso(Toyota), Kawasaki Heavy Industry, Hitachi(Thai), Modenas , Seiko Instrument, Hitachi Global Storage, Matsushita Kotobuki, Matsushita Electronics, Toshiba, Maxtor, Seiko Epson, Kanematsu Device, Sony, Hitachi, Matsushita, JVC, Mitsubishi Electric, Philips, Sharp, Sanyo, Toshiba, Thomson, Yaskawa and Hitachi Mexico. (Information obtained from the company's website). Apparently Asahi Kosei products are also used by Toyota, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.
We call on Asahi Kosei(M) Sdn Bhd, Asahi Kosei Japan Co. Ltd. and all the companies that are(or have been) customers of this company to cause Asahi Kosei to immediately and unconditionally withdraw the legal action against Charles Hector,
We call on Asahi Kosei and everyone, especially governments, to respect the universally recognized rights, duties and obligations of every person and/or organisations to highlight to the public information about wrongs, human rights violations and injustices, as is evident in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
We also call on Asahi Kosei and the government of Japan and Malaysia to ensure that justice be done to all workers affected, and to ensure that their rights as workers, including their rights to complain are recognized and respected at all times.