Thursday, September 11, 2008

HAF Malaysia Policy Brief 2007-08

  • The Hindu minority (7%) suffers from economic, social and educational discrimination,
    while the majority Malaysian Muslims benefit from an affirmative-action policy[1]
  • Hindus and other minorities face increasing religious discrimination, as Islamicisation has
    grown in recent years. Although Malaysia has a parallel court system: secular courts for
    non-Muslims and Sharia courts for Muslims, Hindus and other minorities have, at times,
    been forced to deal with the Islamic courts, where they have faced severe
    disadvantages. Furthermore, Hindus have been denied the right to conduct their funeral
    rites in accordance with Hindu practices, and in one case, lost custody of their child. In
    another case, a Hindu mother, Subashini Rajasingam, lost an appeal to prevent her
    husband, a recent Muslim convert, from changing their 4-yr old son’s religion to Islam.
    The highest court in Malaysia affirmed the ruling of a lower federal court, which granted
    the Muslim husband a right to use the Islamic Sharia courts to seek a divorce, and also
    upheld his right to convert their child to Islam without the mother’s consent. As a result,
    the Hindu mother may lose legal custody over her child, since Malaysia’s Islamic courts
    will not give custody of a Muslim child to a non-Muslim parent. [2].
  • A number of Hindu Temples have been demolished by government authorities, including
    the 100-yr old Maha Mariamman Hindu Temple. According to the Asian Human Rights
    Commission (AHRC), thousands of Hindu Temples have been destroyed over the last 15
    years. Moreover, in contrast to Hindu temples, mosque properties receive favorable
    treatment and public funds [3]

Summary of Recent Events
• A peaceful protest of approximately 10,000 Hindus took place on November 25, 2007.
However, Malaysian authorities used tear gas, chemical laced water cannons and baton
charges to break up the rally; hundreds of protesters were beaten and arrested including
several hundred gathered at the Batu Caves Hindu temple complex.[4 ]
• Prior to the protests, three leaders of a Hindu NGO, Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf),
were arrested and charged with “sedition;” Malaysian authorities used repressive tactics
to try and prevent the protest, including placing Kuala Lumpur on virtual lockdown. The
leaders of Hindraf were later released after a court dismissed the sedition charges on
technical grounds[5]
• Hindus organized the protest for the following reasons[6]:
o Submit a petition to the British High Commissioner regarding a lawsuit filed
against the British government for bringing Hindus to Malaysia as indentured
laborers and failing to protect their rights in the Malaysian Constitution
o Bring attention to the economic and social plight of Hindus in Malaysia
o Protest the demolition and destruction of Hindu Temples
• Following the protests, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi threatened to use the
draconian Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows indefinite detention without trial, to
repress protests and demonstrations. The Prime Minister’s threats were strongly
criticized by Malaysian human rights groups and lawyers.[7]
• The dreaded ISA has been used since 1960 as an instrument of oppression and a means
to stifle free speech and political opposition to the government. Under the Act, persons
suspected of threatening national security may be arrested and detained indefinitely
without charges or trial. According to Human Rights Watch, the ISA’s “provisions violate
fundamental international human rights standards, including prohibitions on arbitrary
detention, guarantees of the right to due process, and the right to a prompt and impartial
trial.” Due its vague language, the Act has been employed to arrest and detain
thousands of Malaysian citizens since 1960. Furthermore, persons held in custody under
the ISA have frequently been subjected to physical and mental abuse. [8]
• V Ganapathy Rao, one of the leaders of Hindraf arrested prior to the protests on
“sedition” charges and later released, was re-arrested on November 29, 2007. At least 80
other Hindu activists were charged with illegal assembly for their participation in the
peaceful protests. On December 4, 2007, thirty-one other demonstrators were re-arrested
and charged with attempted murder by the Malaysian government.[9]
• Mr. Waytha Moorthy, the main leader of Hindraf, is in the UK under a self-imposed exile
as he would almost certainly be arrested in Malaysia.
• On December 13, 2007, five Hindraf leaders were arrested under the Internal Security
Act (ISA), for allegedly “carrying out activities that threatened national security.” The
arrested Hindraf leaders included P Uthayakumar, M Manoharan, R Kenghadharan, V
Ganabatirau, and T Vasantha Kumar. Immediately following the arrests, they were
moved to the Kamunting detention center in Taiping, Perak, where they can be detained
for 2 years without any investigation or trial. Malaysian human rights groups, lawyers,
and opposition leader Lim Kit Siang condemned the arrests and strongly criticized the
use of the ISA to target and repress Hindu/Indian leaders and activists.[10]
• The Malaysian government dropped attempted murder charges against the thirty-one
Hindraf activists arrested on December 4, 2007, however, twenty-six of them are still
facing charges for “illegal assembly” and “causing mischief.” Furthermore, the five
Hindraf leaders arrested and detained on December 13, 2007 under the ISA have yet to
be released.[11]
• Malaysian police indicated that they will seek the assistance of Interpol and Europol to
monitor the activities of Hindraf. The motives behind such a move are highly
questionable, however, as this announcement from Malaysian authorities coincided with
reports of Hindraf leader, P Waytha Moorthy seeking international support for the
marginalized Hindu community.[12]
• Sixty-six Hindus, including N Gobalakrishnan, member of the opposition Parti Keadilan
Rakyat (PKR), are scheduled to be tried by a Malaysian court for their prior participation
in a protest rally outside the Batu Caves temple complex on November 25, 2007. The
sixty-six Hindus face charges of “unlawful assembly” and “causing mischief.” [13]
• The Malaysian government is also suppressing freedom of expression by banning
“policewatchmalaysia” (, the official website used by
• A new visa policy was instituted, placing severe restrictions on foreign born Indians
applying for visas to work in Malaysia. According to some reports, the Malaysian
government has placed a complete ban on the issuance of new visas for Indian workers.
The visa restrictions are seen by some as linked to the earlier protests held by Malaysian
Hindus demanding equal rights. [14]
• On February 16, 2008 multinational rallies protesting Malaysia’s policies of religious
apartheid were held across the world, including in Kuala Lumpur, Los Angeles, New
York, London, Dublin, Brussels, Melbourne, Auckland, New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai,
Singapore, and Jakarta. In Kuala Lumpur, Hindus gathered at Jalan Raja Laut in the city
center to protest the government’s discriminatory policies against Hindus. The protestors
carried roses to symbolize their peaceful struggle for equality. The police, however, used
tear gas, chemical laced water cannons, and physical force to break up the rally. In
addition, close to 200 Hindraf supporters were arrested, and nearly 5,000 temporarily
detained, including women and children. Most of the arrested Hindus were eventually
released, but at least 9 people still remain in police custody. Government authorities
attempted to suppress the peaceful rally by using “racial profiling” and other repressive
tactics by preventing Malaysians of Indian origin from entering Kuala Lumpur and
removing them from buses traveling to the city. Road blocks were also set up to stop
Indians from reaching Parliament, where the rally was originally scheduled to be held.[15]
What Needs to be Done
• Pressure the Malaysian government to protect the human rights of its Hindu minority
• Release all arrested protesters
• Allow Hindus and all minorities to peacefully protest and fully exercise their democratic
• Stop the destruction of Hindu temples and treat all places of worship equally
• The US Government must abandon the proposed Free-Trade Agreement (FTA) with
Malaysia, unless the Malaysian Government drops it ethno-religious affirmative action
policy, which favors the majority Muslim Malays. The FTA as currently constituted would
require both foreign and domestic (non-manufacturing) investors to take on ethnic Malay
partners (who would hold a minimum 30% of share capital). As a result, conclusion of
the FTA with Malaysia would further the uneven distribution of wealth, thereby leaving the
Indian Hindu minority at an increased economic disadvantage.[16]
Why the US Needs to Act Immediately
• It is in America’s strategic interests that democracy and human rights are protected and
promoted in Malaysia, so it can serve as a model in the Muslim world
• Prevent the situation from further deteriorating
• In addition to Hindus, the human rights of other minorities are also at risk

[1] “Indian Protest Rocks Malaysia Ahead of Polls,” The New York Times,
[2] "Pressure on Multi-Faith Malaysia," BBC News, May 16, 2006,
4965580.stm; "Muslim Burial for Malaysian Hero," BBC News, December 28, 2005,
4563452.stm; “Malaysia’s Islamic Officials seize baby from mother who sought a Hindu life,” International Herald
Tribune, April 6, 2007,; “Malaysia
Court Rejects Hindu Bid,” BBC News, December 27, 2007,;
“Malaysia: Hindu Loses Bid to Block Son’s Conversion, The New York Times, December 28, 2007,; “Hindu
Woman’s Divorce Hopes Dashed,” The Times of India, December 28, 2007,
[3] "Demolition of Sri Maha MariAmman Temple,";
"Tempers flare after Malaysia demolishes Hindu Temple," Reuters, November 5, 2007,; "Malaysia: State orchestrated destruction of Hindu
temples," Asian Human Rights Commission - Urgent Appeals, June 15, 2006,
"Pressure on Multi-Faith Malaysia," BBC News, May 16, 2006,
[4] “Indian Protest Rocks Malaysia Ahead of Polls,” The New York Times, ; “Ethnic Indians
stage protest in Malaysia,” NDTV News, November 25, 2007, ;
“Ethnic Edge to Malaysian Rally Politics,” Asia Times Online, Nov. 27, 2006,
[5] “Malaysia Hindu Activists Arrested,” BBC News, November 23, 2007,
7109849.stm; "Malaysia Hindu activists released," BBC News, November 26, 2007,
[6] “Malaysia Police Break Up Rally” BBC News, November 25, 2007,
“In Pictures: Malaysia Protests.” BBC News.
[7] “Malaysia PM Issues Demo Warning,” BBC News, November 27, 2007,
7114858.stm; “Malaysian Lawyers Slam Security Law Threat to Indians,” The Times of India, November 28, 2007,
[8] “Detained Without Trial: Abuse of Internal Security Act Detainees in Malaysia.” Human Rights Watch.
[9] “Ethnic Indian Leader Arrested in Malaysia,” The Times of India, November 29, 2007,;
“Scores Charged Over Hindu Rally,” BBC News, November 28, 2007,
; “26 Indians charged with attempted murder in the wake of banned rally in Malaysia,” International Herald Tribune,
December 4, 2007,
[10] “Malaysia Arrests Ethnic Indians,” BBC News, December 13, 2007,
7142506.stm; “ISA Crackdown: 5 Hindraf Leaders Arrested,” Malaysiakini, December 13, 2007,
[11] “Malaysia Drops Charges Against 31 Indians,” Rediff India Abroad, December 17, 2007,
[12] “Malaysia to Take Interpol’s Help to Monitor Hindraf,” Rediff India Abroad, December 17, 2007,
[13] “Malaysian Court to Try 66 Ethnic Indians for Holding Illegal Rally.” The Times of India, February 2, 2008,
[14] “Malaysia Visa Policy ‘Tightened’.” BBC News. January 9, 2008.
[15] “Malaysian Police Break Up Rally.” BBC News. February 16, 2008.
7248183.stm; “Rose Protest: All But 9 Released.” Malaysiakini. February 16, 2008.; Sources of information are also based on reports from Hindraf contacts on the
ground in Malaysia.
[16] “2007 Investment Climate Statement – Malaysia,” US Department of State,