KUALA LUMPUR – Thousands of Malaysians and Rohingya refugees gathered at Titiwangsa Stadium here on Sunday (Dec 4) morning to protest the alleged state-endorsed brutality against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
Despite a warning from Myanmar that his presence would be seen as interference in domestic affairs, Prime Minister Najib Razak joined the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) president Abdul Hadi Awang at the rally, along with top leaders from both Malay Muslim-based parties.
"They warned me, but I don't care, because I am here in my capacity as representative of the community and the people of Malaysia," Mr Najib said.
"Asean also protects basic human rights. Don't read the charter selectively," he added, referring to the regional bloc's convention not to intervene in other members' internal issues.
"What do they want me to do as head of government of 31 million people? Want me to close my eyes? Keep my mouth shut? I will not. We must defend them (Rohingyas), not just because they are of the same faith, but they are humans, their lives have value," he said to the largely Muslim crowd.
Mr Najib also questioned Myanmar's State Counsellor and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi's credentials as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, as she refused to meet him to discuss the alleged ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya.
"This Rohingya issue is an insult to Islam. Our patience is being challenged," he said, adding that he would call on Indonesian President Joko Widodo to also lead the world's largest Muslim country in protest against the treatment of the Rohingya.
PAS chief Hadi, whose party has cooperated with Umno on Islamic matters since parting ways with other opposition parties last year, said that "Islam prioritises peace" and called on Malaysia's government to join other states in using diplomatic channels to end the "uncivilised" brutality in Myanmar.
The rally, organised by Islamic NGOs led by the Islamic Da'wah Foundation Malaysia, came a day after the premier slammed Myanmar's treatment of the Rohingyas when closing his ruling Umno's annual congress, saying there was no way Malaysia could keep quiet when there were people being burnt alive and women being raped.
Myanmar’s government does not recognise the Rohingya as citizens, though some of them have resided in the country for several generations.
Using satellite imagery from Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, rights group Human Rights Watch recently revealed mass destruction in ethnic Rohingya villages and called for an urgent United Nations investigation into alleged abuses.
Malaysia's national football team last week cancelled two friendly Under-22 matches with Myanmar, in protest against the treatment of the Rohingya.
Malaysia has over 56,000 Rohingya and Myanmar refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, with thousands more undocumented.