Five ethnic Indians in Malaysia were charged on Wednesday with attempted murder, raising to 31 the number of people facing the harshest possible charge in connection with an injury to a policeman during a rally against racial discrimination.
The five men were produced in a sessions court along with the 26 others who were charged yesterday with attempted murder. Prosecutors accused the 31 of causing a head injury to the policeman during the banned demonstration on Nov 25 near a Hindu Indian temple.
Defence lawyers condemned the charge as a violation of the constitutional right to "worship and assemble," and urged the court to throw out the case against the 31 men, who face up to 20 years in jail if convicted.
"This is the first time in history of Malaysia that an unlawful assembly has been charged with attempted murder," said defence lawyer VK Ganesan.
"This is not healthy," he said. "The nature of the charge ... Is an overt threat to any right thinking member of society to their constitutional right to worship and assemble."
They were also charged with damaging public property and illegal assembly, while some were charged with rioting. All pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The Nov 25 rally was the largest protest in at least a decade involving Indians, who form 8 percent of the population and are the country's second-largest minority after ethnic Chinese.
They are demanding equality and fair treatment, saying an affirmative action program that gives preferential treatment to Muslim Malays is tantamount to racial discrimination.