New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Malaysia should immediately free the five leaders of the Hindu Rights Action Force, or Hindraf, who were arrested Thursday under the Internal Security Act for alleged sedition and threatening national security.
The colonial-era ISA allows for detention without trial for an initial period of two years that can be extended indefinitely.
Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the arrests were "an attempt to frighten into silence a minority community concerned about its rights."
"The government must allow all voices to be heard, including those from marginalized communities like Hindraf who are seeking equal access to basic rights," Pearson said.
The five activists had organized a demonstration last month where some 20,000 ethnic Indians participated to voice the community's demand for equal rights. Police used tear gas and water cannons to quell the protest, and charged 31 other people with attempted murder.
The charge was dropped Monday.
Indians, who account for 8 percent and are at the bottom of the economic and social ladder, complain they face discrimination in education, job and business opportunities and their temples have been unfairly demolished. Muslim Malays make up 60 percent of Malaysia's 27 million people and dominate the government.
The government has denied that racial discrimination exists and has accused Hindraf of inciting racial hatred and unrest in this multiethnic country.
Human Rights Watch and other rights groups have called on the government to abandon the Internal Security Act — last used against political dissent in 2001 — and try those, mainly criminal and terrorist suspects, still held under the law.
**********Malaysia rules out dedicated dept. for non-Muslim affairs
Kuala Lumpur, (PTI): A day after ethnic Indian activists sought setting up of a Non-Muslim Affairs department, Malaysia on Monday said it was "difficult" to meet the demand as Islam is the country's only official religion.
Deputy Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak, however, said that absence of such a dedicated department did not mean that the government had forsaken other religious communities in this predominantly Islamic country.
The government had provided many channels and mechanisms to enable the various communities, including ethnic Indian Malaysians, to air their grievances, Najib told reporters.
They have also been provided with places of worship, he said.
Leaders of 40 Malaysian Indian NGOs on Sunday called on the Prime Minister's Department to set up a Non-Muslim Affairs Department to solve issues confronting citizens who were not Muslims.
Najib said the government had set up a department to look after Islamic affairs as Islam is the country's official religion.
"It's difficult to set up such a dedicated department as the other religions don't fall under the official religion category," he was quoted by Bernama as saying.
Multi-ethnic and Multi-religious Malaysia's 60 per cent population of 27 million people are Malay Muslims while ethnic Chinese are 25 per cent mostly Christians and Buddhists, while Indians form 7.8 per cent mostly Hindus. There is also a sizeable Sikh population here.
Gani owes public apology to Batu Caves 31 for travesty of justice of total incarceration of 403 days
By: Lim Kit Siang 18/12/07
The Attorney-General Tan Sri Gani Patail owes the Batu Caves 31 who were unjustly incarcerated for 13 days and their families a public apology for the sufferings and hardships they should not have been made to go through.
Gani’s explanations why he dropped the charges of attempted murder against the Batu Caves 31 in the Shah Alam Sessions Court underline the grave injustice which the Attorney-General had caused the 31 with the ridiculous charge of attempted murder and collective punishment of the 31 with the denial of bail for 13 days, resulting in a number of victims losing their jobs.
Two reasons had been given by Gani.
Gani said: “We can’t pinpoint who exactly did it or rather who was the one who threw the brick at the person who was badly injured”. If so, why did he charge the 31 with the capital offence of “attempted murder” with the maximum sentence of 20 years’ jail and fine, and what’s worse, denying bail to them for 13 days on a completely baseless contention of their being threats to national security!
Secondly, Gani said the 31 men were initially charged not because they were alleged to be Hindraf members but because they had committed an offence by participating in an illegal assembly.
Gani said all the 31 men had signed letters opposing Hindraf and claimed they were not Hindraf members. They also said they would never take part in any illegal assembly in the future.
This is a very serious contradiction. If the 31 were not charged because they were Hindraf members, why should any subsequent claim that they were not Hindraf members have any bearing on their cases?
The Batu Caves 31 had already been harshly and unfairly punished although they were innocent of the charge of attempted murder, as they were all incarcerated for 13 days each, which work out to 403 days of jail for the 31.
The least Gani should do is to tender a public apology to the Batu Caves 31 and their families for this travesty of justice and abuse of prosecutorial powers in his unfair and unjust handling of cases of the Batu Caves 31.