Wednesday, 5 December 2007

HINDRAF lawyer fears arrest

From The Straits Times, Singapore.

Dec 5, 2007

Maverick M'sian Indian lawyer fears arrest

KUALA LUMPUR - A MALAYSIAN human rights lawyer, who helped organise 10,000 ethnic Indians to protest against racial discrimination, said on Wednesday he feared he might be jailed for years without trial for speaking up.

But 46-year-old P. Uthayakumar, who said he was inspired by this year's demonstrations by monks in Myanmar against its military regime, said he would continue to champion his causes despite threats of arrest.

'There is fear. The PM (Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) has warned us he will put us under the ISA,' referring to the colonial-era Internal Security Act (ISA) that allows indefinite detention without trial.

'We are saying that we are speaking the truth. If you put us under the ISA, you will oppress us,' he told Reuters in an interview. 'But it is not in our hands, it is in (the government's) hands.'

The UK-trained lawyer, and his younger brother P. Waythamoorty who has since left the country, were chief organisers of the community's unprecedented Nov 25 anti-government protest that rocked Malaysia ahead of possible early polls.

In early 2006, Mr Uthayakumar set up the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), which has emerged as one of the most vocal pressure groups challenging Mr Abdullah's administration.

Son of a train driver, the outspoken and maverick lawyer has fought for the rights of poor and working class Indians since the mid-1990s. Half his income as a lawyer is spent on his causes.

Four other Hindraf leaders are also lawyers.

'They are poor men's lawyers,' said Baradan Kuppusamy, an ethnic Indian journalist specialising in Indian issues. 'They have some status among the poor. They are fighting it out on the ground. That is their legitimacy.'

Turning point?
Mr Uthayakumar has since turned to allegations of 'ethnic cleansing' of Indians in Malaysia, a claim strongly disputed by Mr Abdullah.

'Every three weeks, one (Hindu) temple is being demolished. Every two weeks, one youth dies in police custody,' he said, adding that 60 per cent of the youths are ethnic Indians although that group accounts for just 8 per cent of Malaysia's population.

'If this is not ethnic cleansing, what is ethnic cleansing?' Mr asked Uthayakumar, although he conceded it was a far cry from the sort of actions on a massive scale seen in places like Bosnia.

He said the Nov 25 rally could be a turning point in Malaysian politics and help shape the outcome of the coming elections.

But leaders of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, which has governed the country since independence from Britain in 1957, have described Hindraf leaders as nothing but troublemakers.

'I never thought this will happen during my lifetime. Even three months ago, to get 10 people to support us, nobody wants to come. Now suddenly, everybody is coming,' Mr Uthayakumar said.

'People are donating a lot of money. We have collected about 150,000 ringgit (S$65,050),' he said. 'Ninety per cent of the Indians vote out of fear, out of no choice, out of desperation. They just continue to vote for Barisan Nasional. But now the mindset has changed.' -- REUTERS

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