Global rights group accuses Malaysia of silencing minority after ethnic Indians’ arrests

An international human rights group called on Malaysia Tuesday (18 Dec) to release five ethnic Indian activists who have been detained without trial, and accused the Muslim Malay-dominated government of trying to silence a minority.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Malaysia should immediately free the five leaders of the Hindu Rights Action Force, or Hindraf, who were arrested Thursday (13 Dec) under the Internal Security Act for alleged sedition and threatening national security.

The colonial-era ISA allows for detention without trial for an initial period of two years that can be extended indefinitely.

Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the arrests were "an attempt to frighten into silence a minority community concerned about its rights."

"The government must allow all voices to be heard, including those from marginalized communities like Hindraf who are seeking equal access to basic rights," Pearson said.

The five activists had organized a demonstration last month where some 20,000 ethnic Indians participated to voice the community's demand for equal rights. Police used tear gas and water cannons to quell the protest, and charged 31 other people with attempted murder.

The charge was dropped Monday (17 Dec).

Indians, who account for 8% and are at the bottom of the economic and social ladder, complain they face discrimination in education, job and business opportunities and their temples have been unfairly demolished. Muslim Malays make up 60% of Malaysia's 27 million people and dominate the government.

The government has denied that racial discrimination exists and has accused Hindraf of inciting racial hatred and unrest in this multiethnic country.

Human Rights Watch and other rights groups have called on the government to abandon the Internal Security Act _ last used against political dissent in 2001 _ and try those, mainly criminal and terrorist suspects, still held under the law. (AP)