Twenty-six ethnic Indians have been charged with attempted murder in connection with an anti-discrimination rally in Malaysia last month, a lawyer said on Tuesday.
The defendants pleaded innocence to charges of attempting to kill a police officer during a clash at a temple compound outside Kuala Lumpur on Nov 25, said lawyer M Manoharan Malayalam.
The rally, involving 10,000 people, was the largest protest in at least a decade involving Indians, the country's second-largest minority population after ethnic Chinese. They had demanded equality and fair treatment in Muslim-majority Malaysia.
"It's very shocking," Manoharan told The Associated Press. "This is a clear victimisation of the Indians by bringing forth a malicious prosecution that is race-based."
Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail said the policeman received stitches on his head after being attacked with bricks and iron pipes.
"This has nothing to do with race," he told the AP. "We follow the law. It applies to everyone under the sun."
Manoharan said the 26 Indians were earlier arrested during the rally and about half of them have already been charged for illegal assembly. They were released on bail but police rearrested them at their homes before dawn today in a surprise raid, he said. They face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty, he added.
Indians, which make up 8 per cent of the country's 27 million people, say they suffer discrimination because of an affirmative action policy that favours the majority Malay Muslims in jobs, education, business and government contracts.