Thursday, April 14, 2011

Exiled Malaysian Human Rights Activist Addresses Large Crowds on U.S. Tour

Washington, D.C. (April 12, 2011) - The exiled Malaysian human rights lawyer and founder of the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF), Waytha Moorthy, completed a seven city tour of the United States sponsored by the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) last weekend. Moorthy was jailed and then exiled from his native Malaysia, and HINDRAF was banned after organizing a peaceful rally of more than 50,000 in 2007, protesting the country’s persecution of ethnic Indians and Hindus. Moorthy’s speaking tour took him to several meetings on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., as well as stops on university campuses and community events. He called for international attention to be focused not only on the mass movement of Hindus and other religious minorities that was crushed by the Malaysian government in 2007, but also on the ongoing systematic discrimination.

"Mr. Moorthy’s presentation was critical in educating Americans about the extent and pervasiveness of human rights abuses in Malaysia and the brutal repression of tens of thousands that tried to bring peaceful change there just as we are witnessing in parts of the Arab world today,” said Samir Kalra, HAF Executive Council Member. “From destruction of Hindu temples to political persecution, Mr. Moorthy provided great personal insight into the daily struggles endured by the Hindu minority.”

Hindus, who were brought to Malaysia from India as indentured laborers by the British during the 1800’s, comprise between six and seven percent of that country’s population. Many human rights organizations assert that Malaysian Hindus are economically deprived and lag far behind ethnic Malaysian Muslims who benefit from a majoritarian affirmative-action policy that includes discounts on housing, quotas in educational institutions, and preference for government jobs. Moorthy’s lectures detailed attacks on temples and religious shrines and several high-profile legal battles where Hindus have been forced to deal with the Sharia law courts in personal and family matters.

"Our community was stirred emotionally by the story of personal hardship endured by Mr. Moorthy and so many fellow Hindus in Malaysia,” said Dr. Chandresh Saraiya, a Tampa Bay physician who co-organized Moorthy’s lectures there. “We are eager here to work with HAF to create greater awareness and understanding of the human rights issues faced by Moorthy and Hindus throughout the world where they are often a persecuted minority.”

Moorthy sought political asylum in the United Kingdom after Malaysia revoked his passport in early 2008, and he remains the voice of HINDRAF after most of its founding members were jailed in Kuala Lampur. HAF joined Moorthy in December 2008, when the Foundation spoke at a briefing on Malaysia at the House of Lords. This most recent speaking tour is the latest of HAF’s ongoing efforts to focus attention on Malaysia -- a country otherwise commonly held up as a model Muslim democracy.

"I am indeed grateful for this ten day HAF tour bringing me to the United States so I may spread awareness of the tragic situation confronting Malaysia’s Hindu and other religious minorities,” said Mr. Moorthy upon wrapping up his tour. “HAF’s efforts through this tour and continued monitoring and reporting of events in Malaysia in their human rights report is critically important, and after feeling the support I received on this visit, I sincerely believe Malaysian Hindus can aspire to achieve concrete changes for their betterment and that of their children.”

While in DC, over three days, Moorthy, accompanied by HAF’s Associate Director, Jay Kansara, held meetings with twenty-one House and Senate offices, key subcommittees, and the Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights. They also met with fellows and staffers at the American Enterprise Institute and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Throughout his trip, Moorthy showed footage of media coverage of the historic HINDRAF rally and the subsequent violent response by the Malaysian authorities, and he also described daily acts of discrimination faced by religious minorities in Malaysia. Kansara and Moorthy urged congressional leaders to hold a congressional briefing on the issue and persuade the Malaysian government to meet with HINDRAF leaders and address alleged rights abuses in that nation.

"HAF annually publishes the only comprehensive Hindu human rights report covering several countries, and Mr. Moorthy brings the pages of this report to life with his poignant story of Hindus in Malaysia and other parts of the Diaspora,” added Kansara. “Mr. Moorthy’s tour is a testament to HAF’s commitment to follow through on its report with concrete action, and we are immensely proud to have given a platform to a true champion of human rights.”