Wednesday, December 19, 2007

ISA has been used in Malaysia to gag criticism of Government -- SEAPA


The Malaysian authorities should immediately release five ethnic
Indian leaders being held under the country's Internal Security Act
(ISA), which allows for detention without trial, say the Southeast
Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), its local partner the Centre for
Independent Journalism (CIJ), and Human Rights Watch.

Five leaders of the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) were arrested
on 13 December and will be detained for up to two years because of
their actions that allegedly threaten "national security".

Last month, HINDRAF brought more than 10,000 ethnic Indians onto the
streets of Kuala Lumpur to complain of economic racial discrimination
in multi-ethnic, multi-religious Malaysia, dominated by the ethnic

Originally enacted to contain security threats during the armed
communist insurgency in the 1960s, the ISA has been repeatedly used to
curb public discussions on "sensitive" issues and criticism of the
government, says SEAPA.

It allows for a 60-day detention without warrant, trial or access to
legal counsel. The detention can be extended for up to two years and
renewed indefinitely - without submitting any evidence to the courts.
According to Human Rights Watch, as of September 2007, 87 people were
detained under the ISA.

"If laws were broken, then the offenders should be charged and
properly tried, not detained indefinitely," says Human Rights Watch.

HINDRAF tried to get a permit for the 25 November rally but was
rebuffed by the Kuala Lumpur police, who used a rare court order
barring rally participants from certain locations for seven days. But
protesters defied the ban, leading to violent clashes on the streets
and the arrest of nearly 400 people, with 31 protesters denied bail
and facing various charges including attempted murder.

The latest arrests mark a worrying trend of increasing official
intolerance: Malaysians are starting to invoke their seldom-exercised
right to freedom of assembly as a means of expressing their
grievances, which are not being conveyed by the mainstream media.

"By invoking the law now, the government appears to intend to create a
chilling effect on an increasingly vocal citizenry who have been
braving official warnings, arrests and beatings from riot police in
calling for reforms...via petitions and marches," says SEAPA.

An open letter to Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, signed by more than
200 participants attending a "knowledge for development" forum, urged
the government to drop the charges and grant the rights to freedom of
assembly and expression without favour.

Just last week on 11 December, Malaysian police arrested 26 people who
were part of a civil society delegation sent to Parliament to object
to proposed constitutional amendments. Among them was Gayathry
Venkiteswaran, CIJ's executive director. They were released later in
the day, but 17 of them are out on police bail with a hearing
scheduled for later this month.

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