An ethnic Indian group launched a campaign Thursday to gather 1 million signatures demanding the government release five Indian leaders who were put in indefinite detention after leading an anti-government rally last month.
"We call upon all Malaysians who believe in justice and freedom to support this campaign," P. Waytha Moorthy, the chairman of the Hindu Rights Action Force, said in a statement.
Moorthy is in self-imposed exile in London because he fears he will be arrested like his five Hindraf colleagues, who were taken to a detention camp Dec. 13 under the Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite detention without trial.
The government said they were a threat to national security and accused them of having terrorist links. The group has denied the allegations.
"We call upon the government to unconditionally release all five who have been falsely and unjustly incarcerated," Moorthy said, adding that if the government has evidence it should file charges against them.
Hindraf was a little known group until it organized a massive rally Nov. 25 in Kuala Lumpur to highlight what it says is racial discrimination faced by ethnic Indians, who form 8 percent of the population in this Muslim-majority country. Malays, who are Muslims, make up 60 percent of the population, and ethnic Chinese account for 25 percent.
The Indians say the Malay-dominated government does not give them a fair chance to get jobs and education. They also complain their temples are being systematically destroyed, which the government denies.
Moorthy's statement was released at a news conference called by the wives of two of the leaders.
The signature campaign began with the wives signing their names to the petition. They said copies of the petition will be distributed in schools, shops, offices and homes throughout the country, and they called on all Malays _ not just Indians _ who support their cause to sign.
"It is not one voice any more. It is the voice of all Indians. We have not committed any crime. We are just asking for our rights," said Indira Devi, the wife of P. Utthayakumar, the key leader of Hindraf.
After they have collected 1 million signatures, the petition will be submitted to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.