Irene Fernandez
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IRENE FERNANDEZ FILES APPEAL, SUPPORTERS SPEAK UP

Yoon Szu-Mae

Oct 17th, 2003

Lawyers for Tenaganita director Irene Fernandez - who was sentenced to 12 months jail for publishing a memorandum containing ¡¥false news¡¦ - filed an application to appeal at the High Court at today.

Copies of the appeal, filed at 10am, were delivered to Kuala Lumpur Magistrate Juliana Mohamed ¡V who had presided over the seven-year trial - and the public prosecutor¡¦s office, Fernandez told a press conference.

Her own stay of execution, which was granted by Juliana yesterday evening, will hold until the appeal stage is completed and a decision made by the High Court on whether to sustain or reverse the guilty verdict, she said.

Asked how she felt about the decision, Fernandez said: "I am very angry over this system, the power of this system that covers up human rights violations. That is the anger."

During the same press conference, a number of local and regional NGOs rejected the sentence and vowed to continue to stand firm behind the veteran human rights campaigner, as well as the allegations of migrant deaths, torture and dehumanised treatment contained in the 1995 memorandum.

The groups said that today¡¦s meeting was held to disprove the claims by the public prosecutor during the trial yesterday, who suggested that Fernandez, 57, did not have the moral support of NGOs within the country and around the world.

CONDITIONS WORSENED

Regional coalition of HIV/Aids research organisations Caram Asia spoke of the regrettable decision by the authorities to ignore the concerns raised by Fernandez, even with recent studies indicating that the conditions for migrants under detention have not only failed to improve, but had perhaps even worsened.

Even the testimonies of migrants during the trial "reflected far greater abuses than had been echoed in the memorandum," said the network¡¦s regional coordinator Sharuna Verghis.

In such a context, she said, the decision to lay charges against Fernandez constitutes a gross violation of fundamental rights.

"Caram Asia calls on the Malaysian government to show the strength of its regional and global leadership by promoting the freedom of expression to discuss issues that advance human life and dignity, by reviewing and repealing all laws that stifle freedom of expression."

The coalition represents 11 bodies in Asia and one in the Netherlands.

In the same tone, nine Hong Kong-based rights organisations also came out strongly to condemn the conviction and Malaysia¡¦s track record in treating migrant workers.

GOVERNMENT ¡¥ATROCITY¡¦

Ramon Bultron of the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants said the court¡¦s verdict only goes to show the "atrocity of the Malaysian government¡¦s attitude and treatment to migrant workers¡¦ rights."

"As a member of the United Nations, the Malaysian government should recognise, respect and adhere to democratic principles and human rights enshrined in various international conventions and instruments," said Ramon on behalf the Asian Students Association, Asosiasi Tenaga Kerja Indonesia, Association of Concerned Filipinos, and six others.

Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific, another body which partners with Tenaganita on labour health and safety research described the court decision as "unjust" and "a tremendous setback in the work of NGOs and their efforts to bring into focus the plight of thousands of workers."

Nevertheless, the regional centre for PAN International said that their partners at an international workshop recently have unanimously chosen Fernandez to flag off commencement of the event in Malaysia, "irrespective of her sentence."

"Irene Fernandez is known to be a champion of human rights and has zealously defended the rights of plantation and industrial workers for a safe working environment for close to three decades...she remains a role model on the issue of human rights and the rights of migrant workers all over the world."

¡¥OUR MOTHER STOOD FOR TRUTH¡¦

During today¡¦s session, Fernandez¡¦s children and husband also spoke out against the sentencing.

"Over the last seven years, we had grown up watching our mother fight for a cause she stands so passionately for," said Fernandez¡¦s son Camverra Jose Maliamauv in reading a statement while standing beside his sisters Tania Jo and Katrina Jorene.

"As her children, we have felt that she should never have been charged in the first place, for we expect our mother, as a human rights defender, to stand up and give voice to the voiceless.

"Even though this long trial has taken away moments which we could have spent with her, we love her dearly and are proud of what she had done.

"Although our hearts may be heavy over what has happened, our spirits are strong, knowing that our mother stood for truth and justice. And we know God is with us,"

"The trial should never have happened," said Fernandez¡¦s husband Joseph Paul. "For me and my family, we are most proud of Irene and we are determined to continue the struggle that she has begun until the blight in our society is wiped out."

MORAL VICTORY

Tenganita staff, in taking their turn to speak said: "When the government of the day does not respect the rights and dignity of its people, when a government does not give value to life and dignity of workers, especially migrant workers, it has destroyed to image of Malaysia and the people¡¦s cries for peace."

Opposition party leaders also stood to protest the judgement against the activist, who is also Parti Keadilan Rakyat (Keadilan) deputy women¡¦s chief.

"Institutions are used to cover up wrong doings, and that is double injustice...especially when the Sun journalists who carried the same issues, concerns and conclusions as Irene were given an award, presented to them by the prime minister of Malaysia," said Keadilan president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

"The legal victory may belong to the state," said Keadilan vice-president R Sivarasa, "but the moral victory is undeniably ours."

Party Wanita chief Fuziah Salleh described the decision as nothing new given the judicial track record of the country, while PAS Muslimat information chief Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud expressed hope for the case to be thrown out at the appeals stage.

The trial which began on June 10, 1996 is dubbed the longest trial in Malaysian legal history, with over 300 days of court appearances, 35 prosecution and 21 defence witnesses, and notes of evidence amounting to 5,000 pages.

Posted on 2004-01-09
 
Asian Human Rights Commission
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