Three activists released in Malaysia

The Malaysian authorities released three human rights activists from the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) on Saturday 9 May.

The three men were among a group of five HINDRAF activists arrested and detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in December 2007 for organizing protest rallies without a permit. Two of them were released on 5 April 2009.
However, reports indicate that one of the detainees,  T Vasanthakumar, has had conditions placed on  his release, including a ban on speaking to the media and a curfew.
“While we welcome the releases of the HINDRAF Five, these prisoners of conscience never should have been detained in the first place,” said Donna Guest, Asia Pacific Program Deputy Director.  ” Moreover we call on the government to lift all conditions imposed on the HINDRAF Five.”
HINDRAF is a coalition struggling for the rights of marginalized Malaysians of Indian ethnicity. They organized a rally in November 2007 to submit a petition at the British High Commission about Indian grievances after the colonial period.
The police, who had refused to issue a permit for the rally, responded with excessive force against demonstrators, using water cannons, tear gas and baton charges, resulting in many injuries.
Those released on Saturday were lawyers Uthayakumar Ponnusamy and Manoharan Malayalam, plus HINDRAF secretary T Vasanthakumar.
The ISA remains in force and an unspecified number of people continue to be held in detention without charge. ISA provisions allow for indefinite detention without charge or trial.
Amnesty International has called for the ISA to be repealed or amended so as to abolish all forms of administrative detention within it.
Last week, there was a wave of arrests in Malaysia as a part of a crackdown on dissent by the new government of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.
“The recent spate of short term arrests of government critics is  disappointing from the new Malaysian administration,” said Donna Guest.
The authorities appear to have arrested people merely for expressing their political views or gathering peacefully to protest government actions. All of those arrested have been released.  Amnesty International has urged the Malaysian government not to use arbitrary arrests of its critics as a way of suppressing peaceful dissent.