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Jan 15, 2008


Hindu rights chiefs to go on hunger strike if not freed
By Hazlin Hassan

The five Hindraf leaders arrested under a tough security law are planning to go on a week-long hunger strike beginning next Monday to protest against their detention.

The hunger strike will start at 7:30am on Jan 21. During that time, they will not eat any food and will only drink water, said their lawyer.

"They are doing it to protest against their detention and to garner support for their cause,' said lawyer Ram Karpal Singh.

The plan follows an appeal for release from the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) chiefs, who have been jailed under the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for indefinite detention without trial.

The five - P Uthayakumar, R Kenghadharan, M Manoharan, V Ganapathy Rao and T Vasanthakumar - are being held at the Kamunting detention centre in Perak.

They were arrested on Dec 13 following a mass anti-government rally last November organised by their group.

The rights group is accused of having links to Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers terrorist group, a charge that it denies.

The high-profile Hindraf case has attracted international attention and has highlighted the balancing act the government must perform, with a general election expected to be called in the next few months.

Observers say the government risks continued Indian anger if the Hindraf chiefs are not freed, but it could lose Malay votes for being soft on street 'troublemakers' if they are.

"What the government needs to do is to allow for the rule of law and give them a fair trial. If they cannot pinpoint a particular offence, they should be released," said political analyst Khoo Kay Peng.

Hindraf is seen negatively by Malays because it pushes for equal rights.

"The government has to be mindful that the Indian community is angered by (recent developments). If the government thinks the Indian votes are not important and that the Malay votes are sufficient, then it might not consider the release," political analyst P Ramasamy told The Straits Times.

The alleged terrorism charges against the five will be heard by the ISA advisory board on Feb 12 in Kamunting, after a scheduled hearing yesterday was postponed.

The board will hear appeals for release from the five, who are currently to be detained for two years.

The final outcome could depend on Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. He is also the Internal Security Minister, who ultimately decides on ISA cases.


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