Five leaders of the Malaysian Indian activist group Hindraf were detained yesterday under controversial internal security laws that allow for detention without trial, a spokesman said.
The Internal Security Act (ISA), which human rights groups are campaigning to have abolished, is currently being used to hold more than 100 people, including about 80 alleged Islamic militants.
It is believed it had not been used against government critics since 2001, when Malaysia was under the iron grip of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad who used it to quell a reform movement triggered by the arrest of his deputy, Anwar Ibrahim.
"Police detained Hindraf legal adviser P. Uthayakumar and four other leaders today in an unwarranted action under the ISA," Hindraf member S. Jayathas said.
Jayathas said police also detained M. Manoharan, R. Kenghadharan, V. Ganabatirau and T. Vasanthakumar -- prominent members of the group which irritated the government by mounting a mass anti-discrimination rally last month.
"Regardless of the arrests this struggle will move on. We have many leaders who are waiting to take over, and we will not go backwards but move ahead with the fight for the rights of Indians in Malaysia," Jayathas said.
Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang condemned the government's move and said that if the Hindraf leaders had committed any offense, they should be charged and tried in an open court.
"It is deplorable, the use of the ISA is completely indefensible," he said.
"To resort to detention without trial is a regression to the dark days of human rights violations and is something that will bring further shame to Malaysia's international image and reputation." he said.
Three Hindraf leaders have already been charged with sedition for speeches in which they criticized preferential treatment for Muslim Malays, who make up 60 percent of the population and control the government.
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