Demand to free Hindraf leaders gains momentum in Malaysia


Kuala Lumpur : The demand for the release of five ethnic Indian leaders jailed under the stringent Internal Security Act (ISA) has gained momentum in Malaysia with political parties, the bar council and human rights bodies seeking repeal of the act.

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The Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) that has traditionally spoken for the 2.6 million Indian community has reiterated its repeal demand. A constituent of the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN), it has joined in its demand by BN youth leaders belonging to all other constituents – United Malay National Organisation (UMNO), Gerakan and Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA).

BN youth leaders said Sunday they plan to meet Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar over the call for the release of the five leaders of the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf).

The ethnic Indian People’s Progressive Party Youth Chief T. Murugiah said he had received support of other constituents to join the demand and that he would lead them to the meeting, The Star newspaper said Monday.

The five – M. Manoharan, S. Kengadharan, P. Uthayakumar, Ganabatirau and Vasanth Kumar – have been detained under ISA since last December after they organised a protest rally to highlight perceived discrimination against people of Indian origin in jobs and education.

MIC Chief S. Samy Vellu said that he would raise the matter with Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi again, despite having done it many times.

“It is about time they were released as they pose no danger to the security of the country,” he said in a statement.

Vellu also said the leaders should not be detained any longer as this would only prolong the Indian community’s ill-feelings against the government.

Appeals by political parties, NGOs, lawyers’ bodies, including the Malaysian Bar Council and human rights bodies have not moved the government that says the five sought to disturb the delicate ethnic balance in Malaysia. The country has over 60 percent majority Muslim Malays, 33 percent Chinese and about eight percent ethnic Indians.

A royal decree earlier this year confirming that the five serve their two-year terms had put paid to the demand even as individual and collective appeals before the courts stood rejected this month.

However, the use of ISA to detain a Malay blogger and two women, a Member of Parliament and a newspaper reporter, both ethnic Chinese, has revived protests against the government using the law to curb political dissent and media freedom.

The three were later released following widespread protests and criticism from the US State Department.