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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

KL riot leaders freed

Leaders of group behind Indian protest in KL go free
They claim victory after court frees them on a technicality
By Chow Kum Hor, Malaysia Correspondent

KUALA LUMPUR - HINDU activists claimed victory yesterday when three of their leaders, charged with sedition after the biggest protests ever staged by Indians in Malaysia, walked free.
Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) chairman P. Waytha Moorthy and fellow founders P. Uthayakumar and V. Ganapathy Rao were freed after the prosecution failed to supply Tamil copies of their allegedly seditious speeches.

Instead, the court was given the Malay translation of their speeches. Malaysian legal procedure requires that speeches submitted as evidence must be in the language they were made in.

Although the Klang Sessions Court said the men had been granted a 'discharge not amounting to acquittal', meaning they could be re-arrested and charged again, Mr Waytha Moorthy was carried triumphantly from the court on the shoulders of a Hindraf member.

The three leaders of the organisation were greeted by about 1,000 supporters gathered outside the court when they walked out, and Mr Waytha Moorthy said: 'We are seeking justice for the Indian community, and today's verdict shows that we have made a small step in the correct direction.'

Observers say Sunday's riots, in which more than 5,000 activists battled police for six hours, represent a new era of racial activism as Indians become radicalised by the 'Islamisation' of Malaysia.

'We will have an emboldened community willing to fight for their rights,' said political commentator Charles Santiago.

'The young Indian population out there...see discrimination on a daily basis...a lot of them, they feel they have nothing to lose.'

And analyst P. Ramasamy said: 'The character of struggle has changed. It has taken on a Hindu form - Hinduism versus Islam.'

Hindraf now plans to raise the global profile of its cause by appealing directly to Britain's Queen.

Although much of the focus of Sunday's protests was on alleged Malaysian discrimination against Indian citizens, it was officially in support of a US$4 trillion (S$5.77 trillion) class action against Britain.

Hindraf's suit blames the woes faced by present-day Malaysian Indians on the British, who brought their ancestors from India to work as labourers 150 years ago.

It attempted on Sunday to deliver a petition signed by 100,000 Indians to the British High Commission, calling for the Queen to appoint a counsel to fight the suit for it.

Now, it plans to go directly to Buckingham Palace, with Mr Waytha Moorthy telling The Straits Times: 'After what happened on Sunday, we want to make sure that the petition reaches where it was intended.'

Sunday's protest could be a headache for Umno, which rules in a coalition including the Malaysian Indian Congress. Yesterday, Mr Ramasamy said: 'I think it's very clear the MIC cannot speak on behalf of the Indian community.'

Deputy Premier Najib Razak, however, denied claims that MIC president S. Samy Vellu is unable to fight for the Indian community.

'If Samy Vellu is powerless then the Indian community would have felt that they have been deprived a long time ago,' he told reporters.

'Samy Vellu is a senior member of the government and the MIC is a senior partner in the Barisan Nasional.'

He also said: 'We will not back down from a political challenge.'

kumhor@sph.com.sg

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION FROM ASSOCIATED PRESS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BERNAMA

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