24 November, 2007

PM warns ethnic Indian minority not to join banned rally

Malaysia's prime minister urged ethnic Indians Saturday to shun a protest aimed at airing their economic grievances, saying its planners were suspected of encouraging people to rebel.

The Hindu Rights Action Force, an influential non government group, wants thousands of people to demonstrate outside the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday to highlight how Malaysia's ethnic Indian minority has remained largely poor under both British colonial rule and the present government dominated by Malay Muslims.

Authorities have declared the rally illegal and stepped up security amid concerns of potential violence.

Three ethnic Indian activists were arrested and charged in court with sedition Friday, but Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi denied that it was because they were the key organizers of the rally.

"They are deemed to have gone against the Sedition Act and we had to take action," Abdullah told Malaysian reporters in Uganda, where he was attending the Commonwealth summit.

"We are not drumming up charges against them," the national news agency, Bernama, quoted Abdullah as saying. "For some time now, these three people have been getting carried away saying things that are against the law."

Twenty-five Indian non-governmental organisations here deny that they will support the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) rally tomorrow.
Federal Territory MIC chairman and national information chief Datuk M. Saravanan said: "Hindraf's claims are baseless and the Indians here will not support the gathering.

"As Malaysians, we have lived in peace and street protests are not a part of our culture.

"I urge the parties to discuss and resolve the matter. History has shown that demonstrations always end in violence."

MIC information chief M Saravanan today slammed the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) for allegedly being a used by opposition parties to garner support, reports Malaysiakini.

Meanwhile, The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is deeply concerned about the arrest of three key figures of Hindu rights group, Hindraf under the Sedition Act for planning a rally on 25 Nov, in which 10 000 Indians are called to submit a memorandum to the British High Commission.

Police took Hindraf legal adviser, P. Uthayakumar from his office this morning and refused to confirm his whereabouts until about 3:00pm. Two more Hindraf leaders, Ganapathy Rao and P. Waythamoorthy were also nabbed around the same time in the afternoon. The trio are expected to be charged in court today under the Sedition Act.

Online news site Malaysiakini.com reported that the police also obtained a rare ex-parte order to ban Hindraf and all potential participants from attending the rally on 25 Nov. The application was made under Section 98 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Prior to this, Inspector General Musa Hassan, Indian party President (MIC) S. Samy Vellu and the deputy minister of Internal Security, Johari Baharom issued warnings to the public not to attend the rally. Police has also rejected the permit for the rally and its subsequent appeal by Hindraf. Roadblocks have been mounted to prevent potential participants from entering the city. This is a repeat of the blocks imposed prior to the 10 Nov rally organised by civil society to demand for free and fair elections.

In September, Hindraf filed a class-action suit against Britain for bringing Indians to Malaya as labor and failed to incorporate their rights in the British-drafted Constitution of the Federation of Malaya, or the Reid Commission, to prepare for Malaya's independence. The rally is to petition the Queen of England to support the suit by appointing a Queen's Counsel to represent the Indians.

CIJ is concerned that the broadly worded Sedition Act has been used to stifle the expression of concerns of individuals and groups in Malaysia. The police also cited the Sedition Act to raid the offices of Uthayakumar and Waythamoorthy, on the pretext of confiscating a booklet entitled `50 years of Violations of the Federal Constitution by the Malaysian Government'. The Sedition Act is an outdated law that gives certain parties unchallenged power to decide on the definitions of sedition and the opportunity for abuse.

We are also concerned that the police and the government continue to employ high handed tactics to prevent freedom of assembly. The official claims that public rallies can turn violent have shown the contrary when, without police interference, participants were able to assemble peacefully as in the case of the recent BERSIH rally on 10 Nov.

The arrest, the constant rejection of permit for public rallies and other police attempts to thwart exercise of freedom of expression are blatant disrespect to the citizen's democratic rights.

CIJ calls on the police to immediately release the Hindraf leaders and allow the rally to proceed as planned and to provide sufficient opportunities for the people to exercise their rights to assemble peacefully, as guaranteed under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution.

CIJ calls on the government to abolish the Sedition Act or at least to limit the scope within which the law is applied, as history has shown its consistent use against political opponents of the government in Malaysia.

The Centre for Independent Journalism, Malaysia (CIJ) aspires for a society that is democratic, just and free, where all people will enjoy free media and the freedom to express, seek, and impart information.

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