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NGOs demand justice for the five detained Hindu human rights activists

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International human rights NGOs have told the Malaysian government to release five leaders of the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) held under the Internal Security Act (ISA), or charge them in court. The NGOs condemned the arrests of the “HINDRAF 5”, under the controversial law as the ISA violates several fundamental rights.
(Penang) International human rights organisations have urged the Malaysian government to immediately release the “HINDRAF 5”, the five leaders of the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) who currently are held under the Internal Security Act (ISA) as their detentions was made in the absence of valid legal charges against them.

The NGOs – the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights and the World Organisation Against Torture) and Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), which is a member organisation of FORUM-ASIA – said, if charges exist against the five, the government should bring them before an independent and impartial tribunal, with due respect of the procedural guarantees prescribed by international human rights laws.

The ISA allows imprisonment without trial. The NGOs criticisms against this 48 year-old notorious law came in the wake of a two-year detention order under the ISA on the five activists on 13 December last year.

The detainees – P. Uthayakumar, M. Manoharan, R. Kenghadharan, V. Ganabati Rao and T. Vasanthakumar – did not face trial but were instead dispatched to the Kamunting Detention Camp, 200km north of Kuala Lumpur, for organising a peaceful rally. They were calling for minority rights and end to discrimination of Malaysians of ethnic Indian descent.

On behalf of the Observatory, Australian lawyer Laurie Berg said, "The ISA is the epitome of a law that sanctions arbitrary detention. These men have faced no charge, have been convicted of nothing. They are detained at the government's pleasure and have the sole 'mercy' of challenging their detention on narrow technical grounds".

The Observatory and SUARAM considered the detention of the five HINDRAF leaders as “arbitrary”, as it violated fundamental rights contained in the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Malaysia is currently a member of the UN Human Rights Council for three years. However, its government has shown its disrespect to universal human rights principles by ignoring its citizens’ right to a fair trial, the right to legal counsel, the right to defend oneself in open court and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty have not been observed when it invoked the ISA on the HINDRAF leaders.

The HINDRAF advocates appeal against the ISA is currently pending in the Hearings were held on 24, 25 and 28 January at Kuala Lumpur High Court, which will issue its judgment on the matter on 28 February. If the court dismisses the appeal, the detainees will join up to 70 others who are still held in indefinite detention, on suspicion of terrorist offences. Several are facing their sixth year in prison under the draconian law.

Initially crafted to deal with communist insurgency in the 1960s, the government has used the ISA on political dissidents, civil and religious rights activists and human rights defenders. The use of the ISA this time is all the more worrying, since it has become a tool to silence peaceful human rights defenders on spurious security acts.