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Mar 31, 2008

Malaysia says no to release of ethnic Indian MP

Malaysia has refused calls to free a Hindu rights activist, who was jailed last year under an internal-security law, even though he was elected this month to parliament in a show of voter anger at his imprisonment.

Lawyer M Manoharan was one of five Hindu activists detained without charge after they organised an anti-government protest by more than 10,000 ethnic Indians in November. An opposition party later nominated Manoharan for the March 8 poll, which saw a huge protest vote by Malaysia's Indian minority.

"We cannot simply react to political parties' calls," Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar was quoted as saying in the Star daily on Saturday, when asked if the government would release Manoharan so that he could represent his electorate.

He said the government could only reconsider the case if the five activists were no longer deemed security threats.

"We have to give priority to public safety and peace and will give due consideration only if there is no threat to national security," Syed Hamid added.

Under Malaysia's colonial-era Internal Security Act, the government can order someone's indefinite detention, without charge. Human rights and lawyer groups say the law has been abused at times over many years to lock up political opponents.

Manoharan was elected as a candidate for the Democratic Action Party, which is fighting in the courts for his release. An appeal court is due to rule on his case on April 2, but his wife, Pushpaneela, 46, who ran his election campaign while he was behind bars, wants the government to release him before then.


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