The Malaysian government is to soon release the remaining three leaders of the banned Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) jailed since December 2007 for holding a protest rally, officials said.
Held under the stringent Internal Security Act (ISA), M. Manoharan, P. Uthayakumar and K. Vasantha Kumar will be released "in the next few days", The Star newspaper said. They are among 13 people to be released soon, it said, quoting Home Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein.
The release of the three Hindraf leaders comes after two other leaders - V. Ganabatirau and R. Kengadharan - were freed April 4, the day Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak took office.
Razak had said he was doing this "in a spirit of reconciliation".
The Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), which traditionally speaks for Malaysia's two million-plus ethnic Indian community, said the government's decision would boost the country's image.
Apart from the three ethnic Indian activists, there are six Malaysians, five Filipinos and two Indonesians.
Razak said the release showed that his government was "not cruel". He added that the police felt the time had come for the Hindraf leaders to be released.
"I think this shows that it's not true that the government is carrying out a cruel and repressive policy as claimed by the opposition, and that we have tried to stifle individual freedom," he said.
"If these people held under the ISA had not been a threat to our security, we wouldn't even have detained them for a day. When I first became prime minister, I had announced the release of 13 people held under the ISA.
"I want to show that our government acts based on fair principles and civil liberties," Razak said.
The home minister denied speculation that the release of Manoharan, a legislator, was linked to the latter's announcement that he might resign as an elected representative.
The release of what the media called the "Hindraf 5" should end the ordeal of their families who made numerous failed bids to seek court rulings, appealed to human rights bodies and carried out meetings and protests.
The government disregarded these pleas, alleging that the Hindraf had "terror links", especially with the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of Sri Lanka.
The sedition charge was confirmed by a court last week against one of the five, P. Uthayakumar, who is accused of posting on a blog, a letter to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The letter blamed the British colonialists for the plight of the present-day Tamils in Malaysia and demanded compensation.
A bulk of the ethnic Indians in Malaysia are Tamil Hindus. The community constitutes 7.4 percent of the multi-racial population of 28 million.