The United States has demanded that Malaysia provide due process of law to five leaders of a rights group held under a draconian law, after they organised peaceful protests to highlight racial and religious discrimination.
Washington also underscored its "firm position" that Malaysians be allowed to peacefully express themselves, saying it was fundamental for healthy civil society and political stability.
The five leaders of the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), pushing for an end to discrimination of ethnic Indians in multi-racial
Malaysia, were picked up Thursday and ordered held under the feared Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for detention indefinitely without trial.
"Our expectation as a government is that these individuals would be provided the full protections under Malaysian law, that they would be given due process, that they would be accorded all the rights accorded to any other citizen, and that this be done in a speedy and transparent manner," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said yesterday.
"It is our firm position that those individuals who want to peacefully express themselves in a political forum or any other forum should be allowed to do so," he told reporters.
Human rights groups have campaigned for the abolition of the Internal Security Act, a law that they say has been abused by the authorities.
The Malaysian government of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi should ensure that the five arrested leaders are provided legal rights "consistent with Malaysian law and international standards," a State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.