police official, who declined to be named, said the five belonged to the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), which stunned the government by bringing more than 10,000 ethnic Indians onto the streets to complain of racial discrimination.
One of those detained on Thursday was a Hindraf leader, lawyer P. Uthayakumar, who had already been charged with sedition for alleging that Malaysia practised "ethnic cleansing" of Indians, which make up about 7 percent of the population.
"They said they were arresting him under the ISA (Internal Security Act), but they didn't say where they were taking him," said Shantha, who answered Uthayakumar's mobile phone after news of the detentions and said she was his secretary.
She gave the names of three other detainees as M. Manoharan, V. Ganapatirau and T. Vasanthakumar. She said she was not aware of a fifth detainee, though the Hindraf Web site gave the fifth name as K. Kengadharan, also a lawyer.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who came to power four years ago promising a more transparent and open government, had said this week he would have no trouble signing a detention order to ensure public security and national stability.
The Hindraf rally was one of two mass protests last month. A separate crowd of around 10,000 people had also turned out on the streets of the capital early last month to demand fairer elections, amid expectations of a snap poll by March next year.
The opposition has accused Abdullah of using public order as an excuse to crack down on peaceful dissent.
"We condemn these arrests," said Lim Guan Eng, head of the opposition Democratic Action Party.
"It is a desperate act of last resort and if the government has any evidence, it should charge them in an open court.
"We urge the government to seek national reconciliation, not confrontation with disaffected, marginalised and dispossessed Malaysians."
'Indians not gaining from gov't programmes'Dec 13, 07 12:55pm
Indian Malaysian social groups have been galvanised into action over the plight of the community, following the Nov 25 mass rally called by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf).
In a statement issued yesterday by Malaysian Hindu Sangam chairperson A Vaithilingam, a group of 48 Indian-based non-governmental organisations acknowledged that some 30,000 Indians who had gathered in Kuala Lumpur for the rally had “carried their frustrations, aspirations and hope for a better future”.
However, the group also expressed apprehension, concern and regret over “the increasingly strident voices of disunity threatening ethnic harmony among Malaysians”.
“It is clear that a significant segment of the community feels that their religious, educational, social ane economic rights and interests are being marginalised, and feel alienated from the mainstream of development and progress of our nation,” they said in the statement.
“Although the (five-year) Malaysia Plans and Outline Perspective Plans have recognised the increasing income disparity among Malaysians and have taken positive measures to tackle it, clearly the government’s intervention programmes have not adequately addressed the needs of the Indian community.”
Among the more prominent NGOs which endorsed the statement are the Malaysian Hindu Sangam, Sri Murugan Centre, Malaysian Associated Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Group of Concerned Citizens and Divine Life Society PJ.
Apart from youth groups and those based in religion, other NGOs represent the main cultural groupings - Tamils, Ceylonese, Malayalees and Telugus - in the Indian Malaysian community.
Proposals being formulated
Explaining that they are committed to overcoming the “serious problem” in a concerted way, they said they have consolidated their resources and are in the process of formulating proposals to be submitted to the government within the next three months.
“We...hope that our concerns can be addressed directly by the prime minister through dialogues and discussions and that the government will formulate appropriate policy measures, implementation strategies and monitoring mechanisms,” they added.
The Hindraf rally was called to support an attempt to submit a memorandum to the British High Commission in relation to a US$4 trillion class-action suit filed by Hindraf against the British government for bringing the Indians as indentured labourers to Malaya 150 years ago.
Hindraf has argued that the British colonialists did not sufficiently protect Indian interests in the run-up to Independence being granted in August 1957.
Since the rally - which was dispersed by police using tear gas and water cannon - the authorities have cracked down on both leaders and Hindraf supporters.
Doezens have been charged with offences ranging from participation in an illegal assembly to causing mischief and attempted murder of a policeman. Three Hindraf leaders including legal adviserP Uthayakumar have been charged with sedition.
However, Hindraf’s claims of marginalisation, discrimination and 'ethnic cleansing' of the Indian community have not gone down well with those in government and even among some in the opposition ranks and other NGOs.