Two ethnic Indian leaders of the banned Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) are among 13 people released from detention "in a spirit of reconciliation" by new Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.
Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar made the announcement Friday evening and said it was Razak's wish "to see members of the society build the nation in the spirit of reconciliation towards the 1Malaysia concept", The Star said on Saturday.
"It is a good start for the government and consistent with the policy of openness for reforms. He (Razak) has put the interest of the nation above self," Albar said.
The two Hindraf leaders being freed are V Ganabatirau and R Kengadharan, both 40 years old. They were among five detained under the stringent Internal Security Act (ISA) for organising a protest rally in November 2007.
Their two-year term would have ended in December.
The other three still in jail are M Manoharan, Hindraf's legal adviser and a legislator, Vasanth Kumar and P. Uthaya Kumar.
Vasanth Kumar and P. Uthaya Kumar have been unwell while in jail. They suffer from acute diabetes and complain of lack of proper medication. They have even complained of sugar being deliberately mixed in their food.
Hindraf claims to speak for the two million-plus ethnic Indian settlers, a bulk of them Tamil Hindus who came here during the British era. It complains of discrimination in jobs and education and destruction of Hindu temples.
Indians form eight percent of Malaysia's 28 million population that has a majority of Malay Muslims and an estimated 33 percent ethnic Chinese.
Meanwhile, people began gathering outside the Kamunting Detention Centre in Petrak state Friday evening after Razak's address, braving a heavy downpour, the newspaper said.
Of the others freed, seven were members of Darul Islam and three foreigners who were detained for falsifying documents and a member of Jemaah Islamiah.
The seven Darul Islam members freed are Binsali Omar, A. Artas A. Burhanudin, Idris Lanama, Francis Indanan, Mohd Nazri Dollah, Pakana Selama and Mohd Arasad Patangari, all of whom have been held since 2006.
The three foreigners (held since 2007) are Sundaraj Vijay (an Indian national) and two Myanmar citizens, San Khaing and Amir Hussain.
The Jemaah Islamiah member is Wan Amin Wan Hamat, who was detained in 2003. His detention period is due to end in 2011.
Albar, however, added that the government was determined to fight all forms of extremism.
"The detention was to rehabilitate them and not served in the form of punishment.
"We are happy with their rehabilitation and hope that they can now start to contribute to society," he said.