UN rights envoys concerned by conviction of human rights defender in Malaysia

17 October 2003 – Two United Nations experts today urged Malaysian authorities to review the case of a Malaysian human rights activist, who was convicted yesterday for publishing a memorandum alleging human rights abuses against migrant workers and sentenced to a year in prison.

"Irene Fernandez was reportedly charged with 'maliciously publishing false news' in 1995 after releasing a memorandum entitled 'Abuse, Torture and Dehumanized Treatment of Migrant Workers at Detention Camps,'" Ambeyi Ligabo and Hina Jilani said in a joint statement.

Mr. Ligabo is the UN Special Rapporteur on promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression for the Commission on Human Rights. Mrs. Jilani is UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's Special Representative on human rights defenders.

They said being able to publish reports on human rights abuses was an essential component of the right to freedom of expression and of everyone's right and responsibility to defend human rights. In addition, Ms. Fernandez's lawyers were given very little time to submit information to the court on her behalf.

"Irene Fernandez is highly respected both nationally and internationally for her commitment and integrity as a human rights defender and, through her work for Tenaganita (a non-governmental organization), addresses human rights concerns in the context of health, domestic violence, migrant workers' rights and family law issues," they said.

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