Sentencing postponed for 26 in Hindraf rally

(The Straits Times) – A MALAYSIAN court yesterday postponed to Feb 1 the sentencing of 26 men and youths who pleaded guilty to taking part in an illegal rally organised by a Hindu rights group.

Government prosecutors said this will allow the Attorney-General to jointly charge in the same court all 64 who were arrested during the rally last month.

The other 38 had been charged in another court which did not have jurisdiction to hear the case.

A defence lawyer for the 26 people told The Straits Times that this means his clients will be charged again with the same offences.

The 26 face charges of mischief and illegal assembly. The attempted murder charges they initially faced were dropped on Dec 17 after Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi said he believed the organisers, the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), had misled them.

They face possible jail sentences of up to five years.

Hindraf says Indian Malaysians are marginalised. Thousands of its members and supporters gathered on Nov 25 in a street protest to demand government help for Indian Malaysians.

Five Hindraf leaders are already held under the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for detention without trial.

The government accuses Hindraf of inciting racial unrest and of having links to Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels.

Yesterday, Hindraf launched a petition for the release of its five leaders. It will also apply for permits to hold two more gatherings next year.

'We want to submit a memorandum on the ISA arrests to Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi and the Human Rights Commissioner of Malaysia,' said Hindraf coordinator S. Manikavasagam.

'We have no links to any terrorist groups,' he told The Straits Times.

Copies of the petition will be distributed in schools, shops, offices and homes throughout the country.

Hindraf hopes to draw 100,000 people to the Prime Minister's office in Putrajaya at a gathering in February- its date has yet to be set – and a similar number to the Human Rights Commission on Jan 15.

Separately, police yesterday warned the public not to attend an illegal rally scheduled to be held near the Perak palace tonight.

Kuala Kangsar district police chief Zakaria Pagan said police would act against anyone attending the rally organised by a group called Malaysians for Solidarity.

'Those found at the gathering will be deemed as participants of an illegal assembly,' he said.

Superintendent Zakaria said those found in possession of a pamphlet on the gathering, or found distributing it, would also be breaking the law since the pamphlet did not carry the identity of the printer or the publisher.