Three members of a Hindu forum, charged with sedition earlier in November, were ordered to be freed on technical grounds by a judge on Monday, a day after police used tear gas to break up a rally by over 10,000 ethnic Indians in support of a USD 4 trillion lawsuit brought by the group blaming Britain for their economic woes.
The three men, founders of the non-government organisation Hindu Rights Action Force or Hindraf, were given a 'discharge not amounting to acquittal' by sessions court judge Zunaidah Idris after prosecutors failed to obtain a copy of their speeches in Tamil, the language in which they had allegedly uttered the seditious words.
The three can be re-arrested later. "They charged us for sedition when we spoke the truth," P Uthayakumar, one of those freed, said outside the court. The three were arrested on Friday and charged under the Sedition Act for their speech on November 16.
Sedition is punishable by three years in prison and a fine in Malaysia. The biggest demonstration by ethnic Indians in Malaysia in years, held on Sunday on a call by Hindraf, was quelled by police using tear gas and water cannons. Some 10,000 people gathered in the downtown city to protest what they called the marginalisation of the community.
The activists wanted to hand over a memorandum signed by thousands of ethnic Indians demanding Queen Elizabeth II [ Images ] to appoint her counsel to represent them in a class action suit against the British government for bringing Indians to the then Malaya as 'indentured labourers"' and exploiting them.
The suit claimed that the community was facing discrimination and marginalisation to this day, an allegation denied by the Malaysian government.
Malaysiakini, an independent news web site, said, 'The suit sought a declaration that the Reid Commission Report 1957 failed to incorporate the rights of the Indian community when independence was granted, resulting in discrimination and marginalisation to this day.'
The government had declared Sunday's rally, during which police also detained over 240 activists, as 'illegal'. The group gave up its decision to hand over the memorandum after police blocked the roads leading to the British High Commission.
Ethnic Indians make up eight per cent of the population, and some feel that they have been marginalised. The government says there were equal opportunities for all communities in this multi-ethnic country.
"Sunday's event was unprecedented and so we will not give up and continue with our struggle," Uthayakumar said before entering the court for the hearing. Some 300 of Hindraf's supporters had gathered outside. "Indian Malaysians have very long been marginalised. There has been inequality in job opportunities and education and in many other areas and Sunday's protest were significant because they were mostly youths and even women who turned up to demand change," he added.
The other two Hindraf activists freed were V Ganapathy Rao and Uthayakumar's brother P Waytha Moorthy. Meanwhile, the president of the Malaysian Indian Congress S Samy Vellu urged the people to use existing forums to voice out problems and not resort to street protests.