Three ethnic Indian activists charged with sedition walked free on Monday on a technicality, a day after their group rallied 10,000 people to protest the Malaysian government’s policies that they say discriminate against minority Indians.
Sessions Court Judge Zunaidah Idris granted the three a “discharge not amounting to acquittal,” which means the charges have not been formally withdrawn and they can be re-arrested.
The activists are founders of the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), a non-government group that captured national attention on Sunday by holding the biggest demonstration by ethnic Indians in more than a decade. The rally in Kuala Lumpur ended in clashes with the police.
P. Uthayakumar, one of those charged, said they had been “maliciously prosecuted”. The other two charged are his brother P. Waytha Moorthy, who is the chairman of the Hindu group, and V. Ganapathy Rao. All three are lawyers.
“They charged us for sedition when we spoke the truth,” Uthayakumar told reporters outside the court.
Authorities had arrested the three on Friday and charged them with uttering seditious words to incite a crowd at a gathering in central Selangor state on November 16. However, Judge Zunaidah said she was ordering them to be freed because prosecutors could not immediately provide a copy of their speeches in Tamil, the language in which they had spoken the allegedly seditious words. Details of what specifically was seditious in their speeches have not been revealed. Sedition is punishable by three years in prison and a fine.
Some 1,000 supporters clapped and cheered outside the court when they heard the news. They marched through Klang town near Kuala Lumpur to a Hindu temple, where the activists made speeches, watched by riot police backed by trucks mounted with water cannons.
Government officials have denounced the demonstration as an attempt to create racial animosity and smear the government’s image.
More than two-thirds of ethnic Indians, who are mostly Hindu and constitute about 8 per cent of the population, are estimated to be living in poverty.