Our Groups “Letters of Concern” Helped Release: Irene Fernandez of Malaysia
Irene Fernandez was a Malaysian human rights activist. She was a People’s Justice Party member of supreme council member and the director and co-founder of the non-governmental organization Tenaganita, which promotes the rights of migrant workers and refugees in Malaysia.
In 1995, Irene Fernandez published a report on the living conditions of the migrant workers entitled “Abuse, Torture and Dehumanised Conditions of Migrant Workers in Detention Centres.”
The report was based in part on information given to her by Steven Gan and a team of reporters from The Sun, who had uncovered evidence that 59 inmates, primarily Bangladeshis, had died in the Semenyih immigration detention camp of the preventable diseases typhoid and beriberi. When Gan and his colleagues were blocked by Suneditors from printing the report in the paper, they passed it to Fernandez.
She was arrested in 1996 and charged with ‘maliciously publishing false news’. After seven years of trial, she was found guilty in 2003 and convicted to one year’s imprisonment. Released on bail pending her appeal, her passport was held by the courts, and as a convicted criminal, she was barred from standing as parliamentary candidate in the 2004 Malaysian elections.
In 2005, she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award for “her outstanding and courageous work to stop violence against women and abuses of migrant and poor workers”.
Irene Fernandez’s appeal at the High Court resumed on 28 October 2008. On 24 November 2008, Justice Mohd Apandi Ali overturned her earlier conviction and acquitted her, ending the thirteen-year case.
The Global Importune letter signing group began sending letters of concern on behalf of Irene Fernandez to officials in the government Malaysia sometime around September June 1997.
She was released on November 24, 2008.
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