Friday, January 18, 2008

Hindraf 5 to go on hunger strike starting 20 Jan. 2008

Jailed Malaysian activists to go on hunger strike
1 hour ago

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) — Five ethnic Indian Malaysian activists will go on hunger strike to protest against being detained without trial after organising anti-discrimination protests, their lawyer said Friday.

The leaders of rights group Hindraf were jailed last month under draconian internal security laws, after they enraged the government by holding an unprecedented mass rally.

Organisers said that the Hindraf leaders would fast for seven days from Monday, and would be joined by supporters across the nation who will hold an eight-day public hunger strike starting Sunday.

"The Hindraf leaders are going on a hunger strike and we want to show the people's support for them," M. Kulasegaran, one of the lawyers representing the five detainees, told AFP.

He said the action was aimed at protesting against the detention of the five, and to demand an end to what they say is marginalisation of ethnic Indians in Malaysia, where the population is dominated by Muslim Malays.

"Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmand Badawi, who said he is willing to walk the talk and listen to the people, has all of a sudden used an old technique to silence the people," said Kulasegaran, who is also an opposition politician.

The five are being held at the Kamunting detention centre in northern Perak state, some 300 kilometres (190 miles) from Kuala Lumpur.

Kulasegaran said he met with the activists on Tuesday and that they were in high spirits but were being held in isolation for 16 hours a day and were denied access to reading materials.

He said that the public hunger strike would be staged in several locations across the country, including at a Hindu temple in the Perak state capital Ipoh where some 100 participants were expected to take part.

The government was criticised after police used tear gas, water cannon and baton charges to break up the November 26 Hindraf street protest which drew at least 8,000 people.

The Hindraf rally came just two weeks after another rare demonstration organised by electoral reform campaigners.

Religious and racial issues are sensitive in multiracial Malaysia, which experienced deadly race riots in 1969.

Muslim Malays, who make up 60 percent of the country's 27 million population, control the government while ethnic Chinese, who make up 26 percent of the population, dominate business.

Ethnic Indians, who make up 8.0 percent of the population, complain they run a distant third in terms of wealth, opportunities and education.

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