Christian human rights activist jailed
Christian human rights activist Irene Fernandez has been sentenced to one year in prison after exposing human rights abuses at immigration camps in Malaysia.
She was found guilty on October 16 2003 by the Kuala Lumpur Magistrates Court of ëmaliciously publishing false newsí after releasing a memorandum at a press conference in 1995 on alleged torture and death in immigration detention centres.
Her trial, which began in June 1996, has been the longest criminal trial in Malaysian history. She was arrested in 1996, then freed on bail, after releasing a report in 1994 which accused immigration camp guards of beating and sexually assaulting detainees. She has been released on bail pending an appeal at the High Court.
Irene Fernandez is a Roman Catholic of Indian background with three children aged between 22 and 18. She is head of the Tenaganita rights group which helps plantation workers, sex workers and helps run HIV awareness programmes. As part of their programme for AIDS victims, the group interviewed migrant workers. This led to the discovery of their mistreatment which they then asked a newspaper to publicise.
The Malaysian Government prevented this report from appearing, but Tenaganita ran a press conference with two detainees to highlight the alleged abuses. The head of the police with responsibility for the camps then filed a case of criminal defamation against Ms Fernandez.
When a team from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) visited her during her trial, Irene described how her faith had kept her going.
She said: ìEach time I read what Christ has gone through, it has really motivated meÖhe never compromised on love and justice nor the truthî. She also expressed her special thanks to CSW supporters who have prayed and campaigned for her as well as written cards of encouragement. She said: ìA lot of my strength to continue has come through this supportî.
She acknowledged the role played by local churches of many denominations in providing both spiritual and physical support.
Tina Lambert, Advocacy Director of Christian Solidarity Worldwide who visited Ms Fernandez in 1998 said: ìIrene is an inspirational woman. Her courage and commitment to truth and human rights at such personal cost is a challenge to us all. Her sentence is a travesty of justice and CSW will be fully supporting her appeal at the High Court.î