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Last Updated: Monday, 26 November 2007, 16:13 GMT
Malaysia Hindu activists released
P Waytha Moorthy (C), P Uthayakumar (L) and V Ganapathy Rao (R) on leaving a court in Klang, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia  (26/11/2007)
Hundreds of supporters greeted the men when they left court
Three Hindu activists, arrested before a rally in Malaysia's capital city and charged with sedition, have been freed.

The charges were dropped as prosecutors could not provide a translation of their allegedly seditious comments.

The men said their release was a "small step" towards justice for the Indian community in Malaysia.

They were detained before a march in Kuala Lumpur on the weekend, where thousands of ethnic Indians sought to draw attention to a host of grievances.

The released men - the chairman of the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), Waytha Moorthy Ponnusamy, and two of his associates - faced up to three years in prison had they been convicted.

They were accused of making seditious comments in Tamil, the south Indian language spoken by many ethnic Indians in Malaysia.

But a judge ruled that they had to be released as the authorities were unable to provide copies of the remarks which provided the basis of the case against them.

Malice claim

It was not immediately clear whether the men could be rearrested if translations were provided in the future.

Map of Malaysia

Mr Ponnusamy told reporters outside the court that the verdict "shows that we have made a small step in the correct direction".

"It is a victory for the Indian community in Malaysia, but there is still a lot more work to do," he said.

The men were carried from the courthouse on their supporters' shoulders when the release order was given.

P Uthayakumar, one of those charged, told reporters he and his colleagues had been "maliciously prosecuted".

"They charged us for sedition when we spoke the truth," he said.

The stated aim of Sunday's rally was to call on the British government to pay compensation to the ancestors of the ethnic Indians taken to the country as indentured labourers in the 19th Century.

However, commentators said the real goal of the demonstrators was to highlight perceived discrimination by the Malay Muslim-dominated government against ethnic Indians.

Activists say that policies granting jobs and economic advantages to the ethnic Malay Muslim majority leave many Hindus in poverty.

Under Malaysian law, gatherings of more than five people require permission from the government.

The protesters had not received permission, and the rally ended in violence as police clashed with the demonstrators.

SEE ALSO
Malaysia Hindu activists arrested
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Malaysian police break up rally
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Malaysia seeks to avoid faith row
07 Dec 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Pressure on multi-faith Malaysia
16 May 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Malaysia: Islam and multi-culturalism
07 Feb 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Malaysia
18 Oct 06 |  Country profiles

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