Three women whose husbands were among 12 people arrested by Malaysian police on suspicion of having links to a defunct Sri Lankan separatist group began a hunger strike Thursday to protest the detention of their spouses.
Authorities detained the suspects on Oct. 14, alleging that they had supported and raised funds for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which had been labelled a terrorist organization by Malaysia, the United States and the United Kingdom.
LTTE fought the Sri Lankan government for 26 years as it vowed to carve out a separate Tamil state. But Sri Lankan security forces declared military victory against the LTTE in 2009 following sporadic clashes that killed tens of thousands, including civilians.
The women said they will continue the strike until their husbands and the others detained following their arrests by the Malaysian Counter Terrorism unit are released.
“Our husbands are detained, we have nothing to lose. We are not celebrating Deepavali,” Umadevi told BenarNews, referring to the festival of lights scheduled to be celebrated by Hindus and Sikhs on Saturday.
“What is there to celebrate?” she said. “We can’t be happy when our husbands are being mistreated.”
Umadevi’s husband, G. Saminathan, is a Democratic Action Party (DAP) member who represents Gadek in the state assembly and serves as Malacca executive council member.
Saminanthan and six others, including DAP assemblyman for Seremban Jaya, P. Gunasekaran, were detained Oct. 10 under SOSMA [the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act] for allegedly promoting and recruiting members to revive LTTE in Malaysia.
Two days later, police rounded up five men, bringing the total number of those arrested to 12.
Founded in May 1976, LTTE’s mission was to establish a separate nation of Eeelam from the northern and eastern regions of Sri Lanka where Tamils form an ethnic majority. Officials said the organization disbanded years ago when its leaders were killed.
Umadevi said she and two other women have been at a parking lot near the federal police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur since Monday.
“It has been four days since we started sleeping in our cars. We waited at the roadside facing the police headquarters while holding signs telling them that our husbands are innocent and that they should be released from detention,” she said.
Police paid the women a visit on Monday, Umadevi said.
“Maybe they thought there are only three of us, so they didn’t bother to chase us away. They just let us be,” she said.
Others protesting are Vimalar Jakumaran whose husband is Suresh Kumar Velayuthan, a local lawmaker in Malacca, and Sumathi whose husband is Chandru Suparmaniam from Malacca, chief executive officer of the Green Technology Corp.
Lawyer Ramkarpal Singh filed application on Tuesday on behalf of Saminathan, Gunasekaran, Chandru, Suresh Kumar and Arivainthan Subramaniam to have them freed from detention.
The five affirmed they are not part of LTTE and denied trying to revive the terrorist group.
“We hope that the hearing could be done as early as tomorrow so they could spend their Deepavali with family members,” the lawyer said, adding the five must wait until a judge hears their application.
Police ask for patience
On Wednesday, Inspector General of Police Abdul Hamid Bador urged family members affected by the arrest to be patient. While he sympathized with them, he said, police must finish their task.
“Investigators are completing the investigation papers to be sent to the attorney general. I do feel sorry for them, but my men need to make sure that our national security is not at stake,” he said, according to state news agency Bernama.
Two weeks ago, Malaysia police’s counter-terrorism chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay told reporters the authorities have solid evidence on all 12 suspects, who were accused of reviving LTTE by recruiting and channeling funds into overseas accounts.
Meanwhile, Amir Abdul Hadi, coordinator of human rights group Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), expressed concern for the women.
“This is worrying," Amir told BenarNews. "If the situation does not go well, their health might be endangered."
Noah Lee in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.