Court hears challenge to the arbitrary detention of five HINDRAF leaders

Press release

Geneva-Kuala Lumpur-Paris, January 31, 2008. This week, the High Court of Kuala Lumpur heard a legal challenge to the continued detention of five human rights defenders and leaders of the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF), an NGO defending the rights of the Indian minority in Malaysia [1].

The five men, Messrs. P. Uthayakumar, M. Manoharan, R. Kenghadharan, V. Ganabati Rao and T. Vasanthakumar, were arrested on December 13, 2007 under Malaysia’s notorious Internal Security Act (ISA), which grants the Minister of Internal Security, who is also the Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the unfettered discretion to detain any person to prevent him from acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of Malaysia. The detentions followed peaceful rallies organised by HINDRAF and another coalition of civil society groups which were violently repressed.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), decries the ISA as contrary to fundamental rights such as the right to a fair trial and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

"The ISA is the epitome of a law that sanctions arbitrary detention", said Ms. Laurie Berg, an Australian lawyer who observed this week’s hearings on the Observatory’s behalf. "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 use of the ISA in this case is all the more worrying since it has become a tool to silence peaceful human rights defenders on spurious security acts.

Furthermore, the Observatory and Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) consider the detention of these five HINDRAF leaders as arbitrary insofar as several fundamental rights contained in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights such as the 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.

At the end of this week’s hearing, the court said it would give its judgment on February 26, 2008. If the court dismisses the appeal, the HINDRAF advocates will join up to 70 others who are held in indefinite detention, on suspicion of terrorist offences. Several are facing their sixth year in prison under this law.

The Observatory and Suaram call on the Malaysian government to immediately release Messrs. P. Uthayakumar, M. Manoharan, R. Kenghadharan, V. Ganabati Rao and T. Vasanthakumar in the absence of valid legal charges against them or, if such charges exist, to bring them before an independent and impartial tribunal, with due respect of the procedural guarantees prescribed by international human rights law. The Observatory and Suaram hope that the fundamental principles from international law will be taken into account by the Kuala Lumpur Court and demands, in consequence, the acquittal and subsequent release of the five HINDRAF leaders.

For further information, please contact:
- SUARAM: Yap Swee Seng : +6 03 7784 3525
- OMCT: Delphine Reculeau: +41 22 809 49 39
- FIDH : Gaël Grilhot : + 33 1 43 55 25 18

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