13 December, 2007

ISA crackdown- 5 Hindraf leaders arrested

Malaysia arrested five members of the Hindu Rights Action Force under the country's Internal Security Act, allowing for indefinite detention without trial, Deputy Internal Security Minister Mohamed Johari Baharum said.

The order for the arrest was signed by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is also internal security minister, Baharum said in a telephone interview today.

``We will be issuing a statement later,'' Inspector General of Police Musa Hassan said in another telephone interview.

Malaysian police have arrested more than 300 people for unauthorized demonstrations in the past month as tensions rise before possible early elections next year. Today's arrests were the first under the security law since the protests began and targets a group that the prime minister said is trying to destroy racial unity in the multiethnic nation.

The Hindu Rights Action Force, or Hindraf, brought together about 10,000 Malaysian ethnic Indians on Nov. 25 in a Kuala Lumpur rally demanding an end to alleged racial discrimination. Police fired water cannons and tear gas to disperse the group.

Earlier last month, about 40,000 members of Bersih, a coalition of opposition groups and non-governmental organizations that campaigns for free and fair elections, gathered in Kuala Lumpur to demand changes in the electoral law. The group organized another rally on Dec. 11, when about 150 members of the group gathered 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from parliament after police lined roads with barbed wire.

`Betrayal,' Says Abdullah

Hindraf's actions are ``a betrayal of our country,'' Abdullah was cited as saying by state news agency Bernama today.

Malaysia, like neighboring Singapore, requires organizers to seek a permit for most public gatherings. The Internal Security Act was used in the 1960s to quell a communist insurgency and more recently, to detain suspected Islamic militants after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.

The Southeast Asian nation in 2001 detained nine men, including the son of an opposition leader, on suspicion of being involved with an Islamic group that was allegedly plotting to overthrow the government. Nik Adli Nik Aziz, son of the chief minister of opposition-controlled Kelantan state Nik Aziz Nik Mat, was released in October 2006 after five years in jail.

Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang condemned the arrest, telling reporters today the ``infamous and notorious law, whereby a person can be detained without any grounds of offense, is something which should never have been invoked.''

If the activists are guilty of sedition, they should be charged in court where they will be allowed to defend themselves, he said.

Malaysiakini reported that Inspector-General of Police Musa Hassan said the arrests, under Section 8(1) of the ISA, were made against the five for carrying out activities that threatened national security.

In a rare move, the five were sent straight to the Kamunting detention centre in Taiping, Perak, to be detained for two years, without undergoing the usual 60-day investigation period.

Open Letter to PM on the arrests in Malaysia

12 December 2007
Global Knowledge 3 Forum
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Open letter to the Prime Minister of Malaysia

Malaysia as host to the Global Knowledge 3 Forum has pledged its commitment to knowledge sharing, to an open exchange of information and to building a just and fair society.

These goals can, however, only be achieved in a society that respects fundamental rights. Since the beginning of November, however, the freedoms of assembly and expression have come under attack in Malaysia. These universal human rights are are guaranteed under Article 10 of Malaysia's Federal Constitution and are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Malaysia is a signatory.

Further, these rights have been upheld by the Malaysian Human Rights Commission, Suhakam. The Commission has given guidelines and suggestions following two separate rallies where there were allegations of police violence. In both of these cases, the Commission found that while there were incidences of violence by protesters, these could have been contained if the police had played a constructive and professional role, rather than engaging in excessive force themselves.

In line with these recommendations, and the fundamental principles behind them, it is with concern that we, the undersigned note:

a. That on 10 November, 2007 police fired tear gas and sprayed chemical-laced water cannons on 40,000 people demonstrating in support of a call for four electoral reforms, including: the use of indelible ink, clean-up of the electoral roll, abolition of domestic postal voting, and fair access to the media. On 8 September, the organisers, the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) had had an earlier information rally on the East Coast state of Terengganu, where police had fired tear gas, water cannons and live bullets at the crowd, with two people suffering gunshot wounds. Police claimed to have arrested 245 people.

b. That on 25 November, police fired tear gas and used water cannons to break up a demonstration by ethnic Indians who were attempting to deliver a petition to the British High Commissioner in Kuala Lumpur. The petition included complaints of enduring racial discrimination in Malaysia as a result of former colonial rule. Estimates put the number arrested at around 400, with 31 denied bail and facing various charges including attempted murder.

c. That on 9 December, eight people were detained for participating in a march for International Human Rights Day. About 100 people took part in the march and some of those arrested were detained after complying with police demands to request that the demonstrators disperse. One lawyer was further detained after the march, after requesting that police refrain from removing banners hung at the Bar Council, as part of the celebrations for International Human Rights Day. The Attorney-General himself presented arguments why the latter should be denied bail, which was granted the following morning.

d. That on 9 December, a further 14 people were arrested for their involvement in the Bersih activites of 8 September and 10 November, including one of those who had been shot.

e. That on 10 December, International Human Rights Day, blogger Jeff Ooi was called in for questioning by the police regarding an interview he had given Al-Jazeera, concerning the 10 November rally.

f. That on 11 December, one of the organisers of the 25 November demonstration was arrested, released and then re-arrested, although the charges behind the arrest are uncertain.

g. That on 11 December, police arrested 23 people from Bersih, at the Malaysian parliament. They were delivering a memorandum to protest a proposed Constitutional amendment to extend the tenure of the Chairman of the Election Commission. Among those arrested was the Executive Director of the Centre for Independent Journalism, Gayathry Venkiteswaran.

We, participants of the Global Knowledge 3 (GK3) Forum, urge that:

1.The Malaysian government uphold its responsibility to its constitution and grant the right to freedom of assembly and expression to all;

2.That the government implement the suggestions made by the Malaysian Human Rights Commission Suhakam, particularly those made in relation to the Jalan Kebun and 'Bloody Sunday' inquiries;

3.That the police and the government of Malaysia allow freedom of assembly without favour, to all;

4.That an independent commission be established to investigate allegations of police brutality during the incidents described above; and

5.That the police drop charges against those expressing their constitutional rights of freedom of assembly and expression.


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