Irene Fernandez sentenced to 12 months in jail

17/10/2003
Press release

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the FIDH and the OMCT, expresses its deepest concern at the 12-month imprisonment sentence pronounced yesterday against Mrs. Irene Fernandez by the Magistrates Court 5B, Kuala Lumpur. Mrs. Irene Fernandez is however out on bail amounting to RM 3000 and is expected to file an appeal to the High Court today.

Mrs. Fernandez, Director of Tenaganita, an NGO working with migrant women, was charged in 1995 with “publishing false information with malevolent intentions” under Section 8A of the PPDA (Printing, Presses and Publications Act) following the publication of a report entitled “Memorandum on abuses, acts of torture and inhuman treatment towards migrant workers in detention camps”. This report contained allegations of ill-treatment of migrant populations, based on Mrs Fernandez’s interviews with over 300 migrant workers. Mrs Fernandez’s trial began in 1996 and has been known to be the longest trial so far in the history of Malaysia.

In a former press release on 15 October 2003, the Observatory expressed its preoccupation with regard to the sudden decision of the judge to advance the date of Mrs Fernandez’s judgement, which was originally planned to take place on 17 March 2004. The Observatory expressed its fears that this new date may have been set up on purpose in order to take profit of the absence of Mrs. Fernandez’s Senior counsel for the trial, Mr. Pura Valen (http://www.fidh.org/article.php3?id_article=2451).

The Observatory considers that the charges against her are arbitrary since they only aim at sanctioning her activities as a human rights defender, in particular her right to “freely publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms” guaranteed by the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (9 December 1998).

More generally, the Observatory urges the Malaysian authorities to conform with international human rights standards, as well as with the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Declaration of Human Rights Defenders.

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