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I might be jailed for years, fears Malaysian Indian lawyer

I might be jailed for years, fears Malaysian Indian lawyer

Author: Associated Press, Reuters
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: December 5, 2007
URL: http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/I-might-be-jailed-for-years-fears-Malaysian-Indian-lawyer/247002/

A Malaysian human rights lawyer, who helped organise 10,000 ethnic Indians to protest against racial discrimination, said on Wednesday he feared he might be jailed for years without trial for speaking up.

But 46-year-old P. Uthayakumar, who said he was inspired by this year's demonstrations by monks in Myanmar against its military regime, said he would continue to champion his causes despite threats of arrest.

"There is fear. The PM (Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) has warned us he will put us under the ISA," referring to the colonial-era Internal Security Act (ISA) that allows indefinite detention without trial.

"We are saying that we are speaking the truth. If you put us under the ISA, you will oppress us," he told Reuters in an interview. "But it is not in our hands, it is in (the government's) hands."

The UK-trained lawyer, and his younger brother P. Waythamoorty who has since left the country, were chief organisers of the community's unprecedented Nov. 25 anti-government protest that rocked Malaysia ahead of possible early polls.

In early 2006, Uthayakumar set up the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), which has emerged as one of the most vocal pressure groups challenging Abdullah's administration.

Son of a train driver, the outspoken and maverick lawyer has fought for the rights of poor and working class Indians since the mid-1990s. Half his income as a lawyer is spent on his causes.

Four other Hindraf leaders are also lawyers.

"They are poor men's lawyers," said Baradan Kuppusamy, an ethnic Indian journalist specialising in Indian issues.

"They have some status among the poor. They are fighting it out on the ground. That is their legitimacy."


Uthayakumar has since turned to allegations of 'ethnic cleansing' of Indians in Malaysia, a claim strongly disputed by Abdullah.

"Every three weeks, one (Hindu) temple is being demolished. Every two weeks, one youth dies in police custody," he said, adding that 60 percent of the youths are ethnic Indians although that group accounts for just 8 per cent of Malaysia's population.

"If this is not ethnic cleansing, what is ethnic cleansing?" asked Uthayakumar, although he conceded it was a far cry from the sort of actions on a massive scale seen in places like Bosnia.

Uthayakumar said the Nov. 25 rally could be a turning point in Malaysian politics and help shape the outcome of the coming elections.

But leaders of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, which has governed the country since independence from Britain in 1957, have described Hindraf leaders as nothing but troublemakers. "I never thought this will happen during my lifetime. Even three months ago, to get 10 people to support us, nobody wants to come. Now suddenly, everybody is coming," Uthayakumar said.

"People are donating a lot of money. We have collected about 150,000 ringgit ($44,910)," he said.

"Ninety percent of the Indians vote out of fear, out of no choice, out of desperation. They just continue to vote for Barisan Nasional. But now the mindset has changed."

Five more Indians charged with attempted murder

Five ethnic Indians in Malaysia were charged with attempted murder, raising to 31 the number of people facing the harshest possible charge in connection with an injury to a policeman during a rally against racial discrimination.

The five men were produced in a sessions court along with the 26 others who were charged on Tuesday with attempted murder. Prosecutors accused the 31 of causing a head injury to the policeman during the banned demonstration on Nov. 25 near a Hindu Indian temple.

Defence lawyers condemned the charge as a violation of the constitutional right to 'worship and assemble', and urged the court to throw out the case against the 31 men, who face up to 20 years in jail if convicted.

"This is the first time in history of Malaysia that an unlawful assembly has been charged with attempted murder," said defence lawyer V K Ganesan.

"This is not healthy," he said. "The nature of the charge is an overt threat to any right thinking member of society to their constitutional right to worship and assemble."

They were also charged with damaging public property and illegal assembly, while some were charged with rioting. All pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The Nov. 25 rally was the largest protest in at least a decade involving Indians, who form 8 per cent of the population and are the country's second-largest minority after ethnic Chinese.

They are demanding equality and fair treatment, saying an affirmative action program that gives preferential treatment to Muslim Malays is tantamount to racial discrimination.

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