More than four years after being outlawed and branded as an illegal organisation, government has lifted its ban on the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf).
Hindraf chief P Waythamoorthy in a text message said this was made known to the movement in a letter dated yesterday from the Home Ministry.
However, he is unavailable for further comment as he is presently in the United Kingdom.
Hindraf was outlawed on Oct 14, 2008 by then Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar under the administration of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
The government had then described Hindraf as a threat to public order, security and sovereignty of the country as well as the prevailing racial harmony if left unchecked.
Hindraf had earned the ire of the government after it mobilised more than 30,000 people onto the streets of Kuala Lumpur on Nov 25, 2007 in a bid to highlight the marginalisation of Indian Malaysians.
The movement is credited for contributing to the March 8, 2008 electoral setback for BN which saw Indian support for the ruling coalition dramatically reduced.
The BN lost its customary two-thirds majority in Parliament since its creation in 1973.
Some two weeks after the 2007 rally, five Hindraf leaders were detained under the Internal Security Act for two years.
However, Waythamoorthy was out of the country and he eventually spent five years in exile before returning home last August.
No reason given on why ban lifted
The Jan 25 letter which stated the lifting of the ban on Hindraf was issued by the Registar of Societies and it was sent to Waythamoorthy’s law office in Negeri Sembilan.
It read: “Please be informed that the home minister, after reconsidering your appeals, have agreed to cancel Order Section 5 of the Societies Act 1966 dated Oct 14, 2008 which declared Hindraf an illegal organisation.”
It did not provide any reasons for the decision. The letter was signed by ROS’ Societies Management Division’s Dasmon Das Michael Das.
According to Section 5 of the Societies Act 1966, a minister has absolute discretion to declare unlawful any society which in his opinion is being used for purposes that is prejudicial or incompatible with the interest and security of Malaysia, public order or morality.
In an immediate reaction, Hindraf advisor N Ganesan (right) said the letter which was received today came as a surprise.
“This was very sudden and so near to Thaipusam. We will need to discuss this first before we can issue a formal response,” he said.
He added that this will be done after Thaipusam tomorrow as the Hindraf leadership is spread across the country to celebrate the Hindu festival.
Waythamoorty who returned from exile in United Kingdom on Aug 1 last year had offered an olive branch to both BN and Pakatan Rakyat to discuss the plight of the Indian poor.
Although the movement eventually held talks with Pakatan, negotiations with BN did not materialise as it had set a pre-condition for the government to first lift the ban on Hindraf.
It is unclear whether this will pave the way for a meeting between Hindraf leaders and the government.
‘Drop cases against Hindraf activists’
Meanwhile, Hindraf lawyer M Manoharan (right) said the lifting of the ban comes ahead of a March 5 hearing at the Federal Court where Hindraf is seeking to be registered as a legal organisation.
“Now that the ban is lifted, we want the Federal Court to agree to Hindraf’s registration. I would also advise Hindraf to seek damages from the government because the ban has caused a lot of hardship to our activists.
“The government should apologise and pay substantial amount of compensation to the Indian community,” said Manoharan, who is also Kota Alam Shah assemblyperson. He was elected to represent the Selangor state seat at the 2008 general election while he was still under ISA detention.
While he welcomed the “good news”, Manoharan said this was “nothing to celebrate about” as the government has yet to agree to Hindraf’s 18-point demands.
When contacted, P Uthayakumar (left), lawyer for the 54 activists in four cases at the Kuala Lumpur, Seremban, Ipoh and Selayang magistrates court said the Attorney-General’s Chambers should now drop the cases against them.
“In the spirit of the lifting of the ban, it is only fair for these cases against them to be withdrawn. It has been a long case and even one of the 54 had passed away two months ago,” he said.
The 54 Hindraf activists who were charged for being members of an illegal organisation after they participated in Hindraf’s anti-Interlok rally in 2011.