Mortgaging freedom for security : Arbitrary detention of five HINDRAF leaders


The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of their joint programme, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, make public today the report of an international mission of judicial observation in Malaysia.

The mission, organised in close cooperation with SUARAM (Suara Rakyat Malaysia), was carried out in Kuala Lumpur by Ms. Laurie Berg, an Australian lawyer, from January 22 to February 1, 2008. Indeed, from January 24 to 28, 2008, a hearing of the habeas corpus application of P. Uthayakumar, M. Manoharan, V. Ganabatirau, R. Kenghadharan and T .Vasanthakumar, five leaders of the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF), an NGO defending the rights of the Indian minority in Malaysia, took place.

The Observatory recalls that the five men are being arbitrarily detained since December 13, 2007, and that they have been arrested under Section 8 (1) of the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows the person to be detained for any period not exceeding two years, in contradiction of international human rights standards [1].

On February 26, 2008, the Kuala Lumpur High Court rejected their habeas corpus applications and upheld their detention under Malaysian law.

In Malaysia, human rights defenders operate within the context of national security laws and Government pressure which seriously impede their work and constantly threaten their physical integrity. Despite these disincentives for political activism, Malaysia nonetheless boasts a large number of courageous activists campaigning on a broad range of social justice and community-based issues.

The Observatory issues the following recommendations to the Malaysian authorities calling them in particular :

 To repeal the ISA in its entirety. Indefinite detention without trial can never be in conformity with international human rights standards.

 To immediately release all ISA detainees in the absence of valid legal charges that are consistent with international law and standards, or if such charges exist, bring them before an impartial and competent tribunal and guarantee their procedural rights at all times. In particular, P. Uthayakumar, M. Manoharan, R. Kenghadharan, V. Ganabatirau and T. Vasanthakumar should be released immediately and unconditionally, as their detention is arbitrary.

 To conform in all circumstances with the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, especially its Articles 1 and 12.2.

 More generally, to ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Malaysia.

Furthermore, the international community should address the situation of human rights defenders, in particular in the framework of the political dialogue between third States and Malaysia. The European Union should base such demarches on the EU Guidelines on human rights defenders of 2004. Member states of the UN Committee Against Terrorism and the human rights body to be established in the framework of the ASEAN should also address the issue of respect for human rights and their defenders in the framework of the fight against terrorism as a major concern.

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