109 people linked to ban Hindu rights group held in Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian police on Sunday arrested 109 members of a group linked to a banned Hindu rights outfit of ethnic Indians for participating in an "illegal" rally here to protest against the introduction of a controversial book in the country`s senior school curriculum.

Those arrested included eight women and belonged to the Human Rights Party (HRP), an offshoot of the outlawed Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf).

City police chief, Deputy Commissioner Zulkifli Abdullah, said the 109 persons were held to maintain order and security within the city.

"It is regrettable but we had advised them multiple times to not go forward with it (the protest rally). It shows that they have no respect for the law," he told reporters.

The protesters, mostly ethnic Indians, are against the introduction of the Malay language novel `Interlok` in the senior school curriculum.

A section of the minority community, including the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) — the country`s largest ethnic Indian political party, believes the book contains offensive words like `pariah` which they say connotes a caste system that they claim does not exist in this country.

P Uttayakumar, a lawyer who heads the HRP, was among those arrested.

The protest came despite the government`s assurance that the book would be introduced in the curriculum only after amendments were made.

The arrested people were in the age group of 18-66 and eight of the group`s leaders are believed to be among them.

"All of the 109 are being investigated," Zulkifli said.

Out of the 109, two men were arrested for obstructing police from performing their duties.

Zulkifli said that those who participated in today`s "illegal" gathering to protest against the novel were an isolated group.

"It does not speak for the whole Indian community as we have been approached by about 13 Indian NGOs supporting our stance against the illegal gatherings," he said.

He said the NGOs agreed that there were better ways to get their message across.

The arrests were made as the protesters walked from the Rennaisance Hotel to the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) outside the iconic Petronas Twin Towers, the tallest building in the world a few years ago.

Though the main group of protesters was stopped by the police near the hotel before they could march to the Petronas twin towers, a section managed to evade police to make their way to the protest venue.

Meanwhile, about 30 people waited outside city police headquarters demanding the release of of the group`s leaders.

Police allowed them there but warned them against blocking traffic.

Malaysian police had yesterday warned that legal action would be taken against anyone attending the gathering sponsored by the outlawed Hindraf.

Police had rejected an application by Hindraf to hold the gathering on the grounds that it would jeopardise public order.

Inspector-General of Police Ismail Omar said no permit had been issued for the gathering and anyone attending it would be breaking the law.

Home Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said he had directed Ismail to personally monitor the situation and take firm action if Hindraf created trouble.

"He will be responsible for ensuring that the illegal organisation does not jeopardise the (security) situation," he said yesterday.

Ismail said incitement and extremist demands could cause rifts among communities and trigger hatred for one another.

He said there should be early education on the need for tolerance and mutual respect in building a nation.

The Home Minister claimed that the organisers were trying to create an atmosphere that was being witnessed in the Middle East, but said that Malaysia was a different situation altogether and the protesters were not getting the response they wanted.

Hindraf was responsible for organising a massive rally of ethnic Indians in November 2007 to protest against alleged marginalisation of minority community in the multi-ethnic Malaysia.

The group was banned following the rally which saw its leaders detained under the Internal Security Act. After his release, P Uttayakumar, one of Hindraf leaders, formed the Human Rights Party (HRP).