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MALAYSIA: SUARAM calls for release of indigenous activists detained for “suspected gang robbery”

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SUARA RAKYAT MALAYSIA (SUARAM), FORUM-ASIA's member based in Malaysia has issued this press statement on 23 January 2009, to urge for the release of Iban land activists who were detained under the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance 1969 for suspected gang robbery, while struggling for their land rights. SUARAM also called on the abolishment of practice of detention without trial immediately.

SUARAM expressed its strongest condemnation against the arrest of three Iban's activists from Sarawak who have been actively involved in a struggle to keep a plantation company out of their Native Customary Rights (NCR) land. The three activists – Bunya Ak Sengoh, Marai ak Sengoh and Melati Ak Bekeni – have been detained under the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance 1969 for suspected gang robbery.

According to the Malaysiakini (Internet media) news report, three of them were initially held under Section 117 of the Penal Code from 26 December 2008 to 14 January 2009 on suspicion of being involved in a series of gang robberies in Bintulu and other places. On January 15, 2009, the trio were re-arrested and detained under the EO while the rest who were arrested together with them were released on police bail.

Several serious questions arise as to the nature of the arrest. Why are they being detained under EO and not charged in the courts? What are the real reasons for the arrest of these three activists who has been actively involved in the land issue in Sarawak? Does their arrest have any connection to the political decision?

Arbitrary arrests and detentions without trial under laws which were formulated to serve a real situation of emergency many decades ago only disgrace Malaysia in the eyes of the world. Detention without trial is a gross human rights violation.

It violates Article 9, 10 and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and Article 8 of the covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Federal Constitution which guarantees due process and security of persons.

The Malaysian government which is also a member of the Human Rights Council should be shame for using the barbarian law like EO, which is absolutely, contradict with the Federal Constitution and Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

EO detainees must be given recourse to a fair trial in conformity with international standards of due process and access to full legal representation and family members. If no evidence is found against a detainee, he/she should be released without delay, as holding them indefinitely merely on the basis of suspicion is a blatant violation of due process.

SUARAM strongly calls for the government to charge and produce them to the court. Failing to do so, the government must release the three immediately.

SUARAM does not tolerate half measures. We call for all laws which allow detention without trial to be outlawed or repealed. We call on the government to release or charge all the detainees who have been arrested under this law immediately. The government should implement the recommendation of SUHKAM to abolish the practice of detention without trial immediately.