Malaysian police arrested 12 ethnic Indian activists and family members, including a 7-year-old girl, when they tried to present a petitionon Thursday at the prime minister's office calling for the release of detainees held without charge under a tough security law.
The activists are members of the Hindu Rights Action Force, Hindraf, which was banned by the government last week for allegedly inciting racial hatred, said S Jayathas, a leader of the group and one of those arrested.
He said Hindraf chairman P Wayatha Moorthy's wife, 7-year-old daughter and sister were among those arrested. Moorthy lives in self-imposed exile in London.
Jayathas said the group went to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's office as "concerned citizens" to appeal for the release of all detainees held without trial under the Internal Security Act ahead of Diwali, the most important Hindu festival, on October 27.
"Police arrested us on grounds of illegal assembly," Jayathas told The Associated Press by phone from the police station.
"It is ridiculous. We are shocked and surprised. We were handing a (Diwali) appeal to ask for all Malaysians to be released from ISA so that they can be given legal justice. We were not demonstrating," he said.
He said he did not know how long they would be held or whether charges would be filed. He said they were waiting for their lawyer to come to the police station to clarify the situation.
Officers at the police station where the 12 were being held could not immediately be contacted.
Hindraf shot to prominence last November when it led tens of thousands of ethnic Indians in a rare street protest calling for an end to pro-Malay policies and better opportunities for Indians, who form the bottom rung of Malaysia's social ladder.