Former AMP board director backs out from May Day protest

Civil activist Nizam Ismail (right) is speaking at a Workers' Party youth forum on race issues. (Yahoo! photo)

[UPDATE 30 Apr 3pm: Former AMP board director Nizam Ismail has pulled out from speaking at the May Day protests "as a personal protest against untruths on my purported political objectives".

In a Facebook post Tuesday morning, Nizam clarified that his pull-out reinforces how he is not seeking "political mileage" after deciding to drop his position at the Malay/Muslim self-help group and speak at the upcoming protests instead.

As Nizam rubbished suggestions he was using AMP for political gains, he said he is in favour of a strong civil society and diverse views for Singapore to be resilient.

"This will also allow my family and I to take a step back and have some quiet time on May Day for us to heal and to restrengthen our bonds," said Nizam.

The charitable organisation from which a Muslim civil society leader resigned as director over alleged government efforts to stifle his airing of critical views declined to make further comment on the issue.

A spokesperson for the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) instead referred Yahoo! Singapore to a statement made on Tuesday by AMP chairman Azmoon Ahmad.

In the statement, Azmoon clarified that Nizam Ismail quit the organisation "to avoid further misperception" that his activities were linked to AMP's stand on political and civil society issues.

Azmoon also said that suggestions of external parties influencing his or the AMP board's decisions are "inaccurate".

"AMP holds closely to our core principles of independence, non-partisanship and critical collaboration with all parties that share our mission in the community, including other Malay/Muslim organisations, non-Malay/Muslim organisations, national bodies and agencies, and the government," said Azmoon.

In a post on his personal blog Wednesday, Nizam Ismail explained why he decided to quit as board director of the AMP and chairman of the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA) effective earlier that Monday.

Nizam said that AMP chairman Azmoon Ahmad called him on Saturday to say that he received separate phone calls from two government ministers expressing concern over Nizam's participation as a speaker at next week’s May Day protest at Hong Lim Park.

The protest, organised by Gilbert Goh of transitioning,org, is to be a follow-up to an earlier protest criticising the Singapore government’s top range projection of a 6.9 million population by 2030.

The ministers were also said to be concerned about Nizam's participation as a panelist at a Youth Wing Youthquake Seminar for the opposition Workers' Party and his critical leanings on social media.

Azmoon relayed a message that Nizam should “take it easy” and decline participation from such activities, or else, the government would withdraw all funding from AMP.

Nizam said that Azmoon suggested Nizam “disassociate” himself from AMP if he were to continue with the activities.

Saying he was appalled by the alleged threats of withdrawal of funding from AMP on account of activities he had done in his "personal capacity", Nizam deplored what appeared to be "political reasons" behind them.

"I could not, as a matter of principle, see myself functioning as an activist in AMP or RIMA’s Board in an imposed non-critical state, in return for continued funding of AMP’s programs," Nizam said of his decision to resign from the two organisations.

Nizam also alleged that the latest incident was not the only attempt at influencing AMP, which was established in 1991 as a non-partisan group to help Malays and Muslims in Singapore.

State funding of AMP’s programs were cut in the wake of a proposal in 2000 for a collective community leadership and threats of funding cuts were also made in reaction to a the group's proposal in 2012 for an independent Community Forum, Nizam claimed.

"The readiness to use the threat of withdrawal of funding when the State feels displeased or threatened also ignores this important fact – that these funds are being used to fund programs which benefit thousands of beneficiaries – be they low-income families, youths at risks, [and] students," he said.

"The interests of these beneficiaries seem to be readily steamrolled," he added.

As of Thursday evening, Nizam’s name had been removed from the AMP’s board of directors’ page on the organisation’s website though his profile page was still live. His name had also been removed from RIMA’s page.

In reply to the matter, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said to Berita Harian that the government does not interfere with the internal affairs of Malay/Muslim organisations. However, he stressed that government help should not be used to fund political motives.

"What is clear from the comments made from Nizam is his wish to be more politically-active. The government considers AMP as an important Malay/Muslim self-help group like Mendaki, and offers assistance to help AMP handle social and education issues in our community. However, this assistance should not be used to aid political activities or self-help groups to carry out political agendas," said Yaacob.