Malaysia: Ponnusamy Uthayakumar, Lawyer | Letter

Re: Ponnusamy Uthayakumar, Lawyer

To: Dato’ Abdullah Haji Ahmad Badawi, Prime Minister of Malaysia; Stanley Augustin, Deputy Public Prosecutor

From: Monique Pongracic-Speier, member of LRWC

Date: 2004-05-19

LRWC is deeply concerned by information received from the European organisation L’Observatoire concerning a recent attack against Ponnusamy Uthayakumar, a human rights lawyer and activist in Kuala Lumpur.

Mr. Uthayakumar was travelling home from his office, on Jalan Medang Tandok road in the Bangsar area of Kuala Lumpur, at or about 7:15 pm on May 10, 2004 when he was accosted by three unidentified individuals wielding a sledgehammer. One of the attackers also had a gun, which he or she pointed at Mr. Uthayakumar in the course of the attack. Fortunately, Mr. Uthayakumar managed to escape his attackers, although not without injuries to his body, face and head.

LRWC believes the May 10th attack against Mr. Uthayakumar was not a random crime. Mr. Uthayakumar has in the past been subject to intimidation and acts of harassment and violence. These have occurred in relation to Mr. Uthayakumar’s work as a human rights lawyer on cases involving the abuse of police powers:

  • In January 2003, Mr. Uthayakumar was arrested and held for two days after attending the inquiry into a death in police custody. During his detention, Mr. Uthayakumar was abused, humiliated, stripped to his underwear, and photographed and videotaped in front of nine police officers. Although Mr. Uthayakumar was initially charged with offences under sections 228 and 506 of the Penal Code, all charges against him were dropped after protests by the Bar Council of Malaysia. The High Court also subsequently found that the charges against Mr. Uthayakumar were brought in bad faith.
  • In April and May 2004, Mr. Uthayakumar has been actively working on the case of Francis Udayapan, who allegedly died while in police custody. LRWC is informed that the Udayapan case has generated media interest in Malaysia. On April 27, 2004, during the course of Mr. Uthayakumar’s investigations into the Udayapan case, the windshield of his car was smashed.
  • On April 30, 2004, Mr. Uthayakumar was arrested with 11 other people, as the group was about to file a complaint regarding a death in police custody. LRWC is not clear whether this was in relation to the Udayapan case, or another.

Based on the foregoing facts, LRWC believes that Mr. Uthayakumar was again targeted on May 10th in an attempt to deter him from pursuing his professional activities. LRWC urges you to take the following actions to remedy the abuses of Mr. Uthayakumar’s rights and person:

  • First, immediately take such steps to secure Mr. Uthayakumar’s physical and psychological safety as are necessary and consistent with Mr. Uthayakumar’s own wishes. LRWC is aware that Mr. Uthayakumar, and his solicitors, have requested 24 hour police protection for him. We are also informed that on May 14, 2004, Mr. Uthayakumar made an urgent application for a firearms licence to protect himself. It is imperative that Mr. Uthayakumar receive appropriate protection immediately.
  • Second, LRWC calls on you initiate an independent and impartial investigation into the recent attacks on Mr. Uthayakumar, identify those responsible, and bring them to justice before a court of competent jurisdiction in accordance with the appropriate civil, administrative and penal laws.
  • Third, we call on you more generally to put an end to the harassment of human rights lawyers and defenders in Malaysia, and to ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, in accordance with international human rights standards.

LRWC reminds the Government of Malaysia of the principles enunciated in the 1998 UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. This Declaration evidences the international community’s general acceptance of an obligation to protect those who work in the cause of human rights protection and promotion. LRWC expects, and sincerely hopes, that Malaysia, as a valued member of the international community, will fulfill its moral obligation to honour the requirements of the Declaration.

LRWC also reminds Malaysia of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, adopted at the Eighth UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, in 1990. That Declaration provides, in Articles 16 and 17:

16. Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment and interference . . .

17. Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.

In closing, LRWC views as extremely serious the recent attacks against Mr. Uthayakumar. We respectfully request that you advise LRWC, by mail, e-mail or fax, of the actions that you are taking in relation to Mr. Uthayakumar’s case. LRWC awaits your response.