Thousands of activists gathered near a detention camp where Malaysia is holding five leaders of a ethnic Indian group and freed pigeons to demand their freedom, a rights group said Sunday. The five leaders were detained under the country’s controversial Internal Security Act (ISA) that allows for detention without trial last Thursday.
At least 2,000 activists held prayers in a nearby temple for their early release after police sealed the roads leading to Kemunting camp in the northern Perak state, said rights campaigner RS Thanenthiran.
“These people are not terrorists. The government is escaping from the real issue that Indians are marginalised in Malaysia,” he said.
Thanenthiran said “36 pigeons were freed — five for the ISA detainees and 31 for those in prison awaiting Monday’s bail application — as a symbol of freedom for all of them,” noting there were no arrests despite a heavy security presence.
The 31 Indians were arrested after last month’s protest outside the famous Batu Caves temple, north of capital Kuala Lumpur. They face an attempted murder charge against a policeman who allegedly suffered head injuries.
Rights group Hindraf, whom Thanenthiran represents, is pushing for an end to discrimination of minority ethnic Indians in multi-racial Malaysia, which is led by the majority Muslim-Malay administration.
The organisation enraged the government last month by mustering at least 8,000 people to the streets of Kuala Lumpur to highlight issues including a lack of economic opportunities and the destruction of Hindu temples.
But the activists’ demands seemed unlikely to be heeded as Malaysia on Sunday vowed more arrests under the ISA in order to maintain security ahead of possible elections early next year.
Mohamad Johari Baharum, deputy internal security minister said police have compiled a list of people who could be held under the ISA.
“My advice to those who organise street protests and rumour mongers who circulate text messages —- stop it. If your don’t, we will not hesitate to use the ISA,” Johari said.