Two lawmakers from Malaysia’s ruling coalition and eight others were charged in several courts Tuesday with supporting, promoting or possessing items linked to the Sri Lankan rebel group LTTE - which Kuala Lumpur has outlawed as a terrorist organization - and could get up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
The 10 men were among 12 people arrested three weeks ago under the nation’s draconian anti-terrorism law, the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act, or SOSMA, which allows authorities to hold suspects for 28 days without charging them.
Assemblymen Gunasekaran Palasamy and Saminathan Ganesan were charged at the Sessions Court in the southwestern state of Malacca with supporting a terrorist organization – in this case the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. In 2014, Malaysia proscribed the LTTE as a terror group.
Gunasekaran, 60, and Saminathan, 34, are members of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), a component of Malaysia’s ruling Pakatan Harapan bloc. Together with 38-year-old businessman Chandru Suparmaniam, they were charged after they allegedly delivered speeches and distributed reading materials in support of slain LTTE fighters during a public event in Malacca on Nov. 28 last year.
Prosecutors also filed a second charge of “possession of items associated with a terrorist group” against Saminathan and Chandru after authorities allegedly found LTTE-linked items in their cellphones.
The courts denied bail and no pleas were recorded from the suspects, as the case would be transferred to a higher court where the pre-trial hearing would take place, lawyers told BenarNews.
Terrorism-related charges were also filed against seven men in five states. The charges were mostly for possession of items linked to the Sri Lankan terror group, including compact discs, videos and stickers, according to state-run news agency Bernama.
Two of the 12 men were expected to be charged Thursday in Kuala Lumpur, local reports said.
Gunasekaran is a deputy chairman of DAP and an assemblyman in western Negeri Sembilan state, and Saminathan is a member of the Malacca State Legislative Assembly.
DAP national legal bureau chief Ramkarpal Singh, leader of the trio’s five-lawyer defense team, described the charges as “vague.”
“We are unable to properly defend ourselves if we don’t know what we were charged with,” Ramkarpal told BenarNews.
Apart from Sri Lanka and Malaysia, the United States, Britain and Canada have designated the LTTE – otherwise known as the Tamil Tigers – as a terrorist organization.
Indian leaders: ‘Gross travesty of justice’
DAP senior leader Lim Kit Siang and other national and state party leaders were at the courthouse on Tuesday to give moral support to the two assemblymen.
Lim, in a blogpost on Oct.13, rejected the charges against the duo, describing them as veteran party members who had been trained to reject “any form of violence or terrorism.”
“I believe that both Gunasekaran and Saminathan were not guilty of any charges related to terrorism,” he said.
After reports of the assemblymen’s arrest surfaced, 16 Indian leaders from within the Pakatan coalition issued a joint statement demanding their release, describing the legislators’ detention without trial as “beyond comprehension.”
“These arrests and detention is nothing but a gross travesty of justice. Such arrests and detention cannot be justified under the new Harapan government,” the statement said.
On Oct. 14, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad rejected claims from critics who said that the arrests were politically motivated.
“It is not me who nabbed these people,” Mahathir told reporters. “It is the police who did so and the arrests by their officers were following the law.”
“I was briefed by the police and they gave me the reasons behind their action, and I am satisfied with them,” he said.
LTTE vowed to carve out a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka and fought Colombo for 26 years, but government forces declared victory against the group in May 2009 after a military offensive that killed thousands of people and led to the death of Tamil Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran.
Despite the group’s military defeat, the U.S. Department of State, in a June 2015 report, said the LTTE’s “international network of sympathizers and financial support persists.”