11 December, 2007

Opposition leaders, members nabbed !

Immigration officials detained former deputy premier Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahimin the KL International Airport upon returning from Istanbul via Singapore before being cleared for entry, his lawyer William Leong said.

"It's just a clear harassment," Anwar told Reuters. "It's a desperate attempt to harass and intimidate the public and deflect the attention from major issues of corruption among Umno leaders and the judiciary."


Police today arrested human rights lawyer P. Uthayakumar who helped organise 10,000 ethnic Indians to protest last month against racial discrimination.

The 46-year-old Uthayakumar would be charged later today with sedition for statements he made in a book, his aide said without elaborating.

Police arrested about a dozen opposition leaders, including the leader of Anwar's Keadilan (Justice) party, Tian Chua, after the car he was travelling in broke through a police cordon and headed toward parliament to hand over a memo demanding reforms in the electoral process.

Tian was arrested after he defied police orders to leave the car. Police then handcuffed and carried him out of the car before bundling him into a waiting police patrol car, Reuters reports today.

A statement released by PKR's information bureau said Anwar, the de facto party leader, was detained and held for questioning by immigration as his passport was blacklisted.

Meanwhile, BERSIH, the coalition of civil society organisations and political parties were supposed to hand over a memorandum this morning to the Parliament Speaker Tan Sri Ramli Ngah Talib and Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Mohd Nazri Aziz.

However, the road leading to Parliament was closed.

About noon, PKR treasure Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim was also arrested by police while leaving Parliament house. It was not immediately known why he was arrested.

Persons arrested thus far: Tain Chua PKR Information chief); Razak Ismail; A.Arutchelvan (Socialist Party Malaysia secretary-general) and Sivarajan (Socialist Party Malaysia central committee member).

They have been taken to the Kula Lumpur police headquarters.

The United States on Monday called on Malaysia to allow freedom of expression and assembly as the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi widened its crackdown on dissent.

"We have repeatedly raised with Malaysian authorities our belief that citizens of any country should be allowed to peacefully assemble and express their views," department spokeswoman Nancy Beck told AFP.

Abdullah has threatened to invoke draconian internal security laws that allow detention without trial, citing past racial violence in the multicultural nation dominated by Muslim Malays as reason for restricting street protests.

"If the choice is between public safety and public freedom, I do not hesitate to say here that public safety will always win," he said in Kuala Lumpur on Monday.

The United States often hails Malaysia as a moderate Muslim democracy but the image took a knock when a series of indiscriminate destruction of Hindu temples were highlighted by some groups recently.

A US Congress-appointed commission expressed concern last week at the destruction of the temples and other alleged discrimination faced by religious minorities in Malaysia, one of Southeast Asia's more developed economies.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom also urged the administration of President George W. Bush to raise the matter with Kuala Lumpur and "insist that immediate measures be taken to protect sacred sites and prevent further destruction."

CIJ Executive Director Arrested along with 22 others

The Centre for Independent Journalism is concerned about the welfare of at least 23 people, including a 13 years old boy, arrested at the Malaysian Parliament Tuesday 11 December. The 23 were part of a delegation from the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (BERSIH), concerned at a proposed Constitutional amendment to extend the tenure of the Chairman of the Election Commission.

Police and government hysteria over peaceful assembly has reached new heights. From as early as 8.30am the police had mounted roadblocks across the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. The first arrests happened shortly after 10.00am, and by 11.00am 20 people had been arrested.

As the participants were leaving at 1.30pm, six others were arrested, including Gayathry Venkiteswaran, executive director of Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ); Yap Swee Seng executive director of human rights group SUARAM; Wong Chin Huat, chair of the Writers Alliance for Writers Independence (WAMI). Mien Lor, programme officer of Pusat Komunikasi Masyarakat, KOMAS, and Dr. Dzulkifli Ahmad from PAS. Arrested earlier were S Arutchelvan, secretary general of the Malaysian Socialist Party (PSM); Mohd Nasir Hashim, PSM president; S. Sivarajan PSM central committee member; Tian Chua Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) information chief; Khalid Ibrahim PKR secretary general; Dr Hatta Ramli, Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS)'s treasurer; Nuridah Mohd Salleh PAS women's chief; and Dr. Lo' Lo' Ghazali PAS central committee member. All those arrested have been taken to the Police Contingent Headquarter in the capital city.

CIJ strongly condemns this continuation of the week's crackdown on peaceful assembly.

These are the latest arrests in increasingly worrying trend of denying citizens' right to freedom of assembly, guaranteed under Article 10 of Malaysia's Federal Constitution. This week alone 21 people were arrested on Sunday in connection with peaceful assemblies, nine for participating in a march for International Human Rights Day. The other 12 were arrested in connection with two assemblies, one held at Batu Burok Terengganu on 8 September, where police fired live bullets at the crowd, injuring two people. Earlier on Tuesday, police arrested P.Uthayakumar, an organizer of a rally held on 25 November. Yesterday, they charged Tian Chua and N Gobalakrishnan from PKR and Mohamad Sabu from PAS for organising a rally for Bersih on 10 November.

CIJ is appalled that the government is violating its promises to increase openness and accountability, rather than addressing the legitimate grievances of the people. We urge the police to immediately release without charge all those arrested and call for the police and the government to immediately release the participants of the assembly. Any violation of fundamental liberties increases the people's distrust of the government and harms Malaysia's international standing and its internal stability.

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

Sonia Randhawa
Director





Tragic tale of Indian diaspora in Muslim countries
By Shyam Khosla

THE Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) has rendered a yeoman’s service to the cause of Indian diaspora living in Muslim-majority countries by focusing global attention on the pitiable conditions in which most of the people of Indian origin work and live in Malaysia. It is now fairly known that around 18 lakh Malaysians of Indian origin who constitute more than eight per cent of the country’s population are victims of institutionalised policy of discrimination. There are communal and racial tensions in the country because of successive governments’ “Bhoomiputra” policy of positive discrimination in favour of majority Muslim Malays.

Racial politics that continue to prevail in Malaysia is responsible for the plight of ethnic Indians and to some extent Chinese. As if to add to the misery of ethnic Indians, more than 1.5 lakh Indian workers, majority of them from Tamil Nadu, have discovered that there visas were not being extended. Many of them are unskilled workers and labourers. They are at their wits’ ends and don’t know what awaits them in case the Government decided to throw them out. There were massive protests organised under HINDRAF’s banner at Kuala Lumpur last month against the Malaysian Government’s policy of discrimination against people of Indian origin living in the Muslim-majority Malaysia. The riot police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the demonstrators. Their grievances include plans to demolish a large number of Hindu temples, denial of jobs, fair wages and educational facilities. Rising influence of Islamic fundamentalism has further accentuated a sense of insecurity among minorities.

Unfortunately, the Indian State has seldom shown courage and fortitude in protecting Indian diaspora’s interests and helping them out in difficult situations. Rarely has the Government made earnest efforts to address the concerns of people of Indian origin. Of course, we never fail to celebrate spectacular achievement of any person of Indian origin whether or not he or she relates to his/her motherland. As is its wont, the UPA Government chose to ignore the ruthlessness with which the authorities in Kuala Lumpur dealt with the peaceful demonstrators. Delhi eventually expressed its concern over the developments only after public opinion in Tamil Nadu forced Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi to raise the issue with the Prime Minister. On the other hand, House of Commons through an Early Day Motion signed by 17 MPs condemned the use of force by the police on protesters and the stated intentions of the Malaysian Government to demolish 79 Hindu temples. The motion called upon the British Government to make the strongest possible representation to the Malaysian Government to cease the programme of demolition and to allow the legitimate voice of protest to be heard without physical interference.

Malaysian Government’s response has been on expected lines. Insisting that ethnic Indians were not “our enemies”, it has shown some interest in setting up a special committee to look into the minorities’ demand to end their marginalisation. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmed Badawi is outraged over the charge of “ethnic cleansing” and accused HINDRAF of spreading “blatant lies. His Foreign Minister dismissed India’s expression of concern as “interference” in his country’s internal affairs. “Ethnic cleansing” may be a harsh word that was difficult for the Prime Minister to digest, but can Kuala Lumpur deny that it proposes to demolish a large number of Hindu temples—an issue that has deeply hurt Hindus not only in Malaysia but also all over the world? Is it not a fact that a large number of Indian workers, who were taken to Malaysia by the British colonial rulers, are being harshly treated and have been reduced to second-class citizens? Can it deny the charge that there is discrimination against them in jobs and education? Interference argument doesn’t hold water. Every nation has the right, nay duty, to look after the interests of its citizens living abroad. Aren’t Indian citizens being denied extension of their visas? Let Kuala Lumpur come clean on issues rather than pretending outrage and complaining of interference in its internal affairs.

It is not only in Far East that the Indian diaspora is suffering. Their plight is no better in other Muslim majority countries, particularly in countries with growing Islamist clout. Around five lakh Indians work in the Gulf in horrific conditions at extremely low wages. The Government informed Parliament the other day that there was simmering anger and frustration among Indians working in Dubai. Working conditions in that country are pitiable and the earning of Indian workers has gone down considerably. That is why Dubai witnessed a worker’s uprising recently. Many who joined the protests are on the verge of losing their jobs. A large number of emigrants work in Saudi Arabia—a country known for flagrant denial of human rights. There are confirmed reports of several Indians having been sentenced to death for minor offences. Our Government’s insipid response to these incidents is in sharp contrast to strong protests the Western countries lodge when one of their national is convicted in another country and the efforts they make to get him back. Still fresh in our minds is the persistent and hard lobbying done by Russian Federation to secure the release of its citizens involved in the serious crime of dropping a consignment of arms in West Bengal after entering Indian air space without Government’s permission. Is New Delhi listening?

Let Kuala Lumpur come clean on issues rather than pretending outrage and complaining of interference in its internal affairs.

(From: Organiser, Delhi)

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