Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Groups Fear Malaysia to Deport Burmese Protesters

The Irrawaddy News

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysian authorities might deport up to 14 Burmese nationals who were arrested at a demonstration to mark jailed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's birthday, human rights activists said Wednesday.

Police detained 16 Burmese nationals at a rally outside a Kuala Lumpur shopping mall Friday, but two of them were released after they were found to have valid immigration documents, said Latheefa Koya, a lawyer whose opposition party helped organize the demonstration.

At least five face the threat of being sent back to Burma, Latheefa said. The other nine are registered by the United Nations' refugee agency as asylum seekers who fled their military-ruled country, so they might be allowed to remain in Malaysia, she added.

Khalid Abu Bakar, police chief of central Selangor state, said officials were investigating whether the detainees were illegal immigrants. Some of them would be handed to immigration officials within two weeks, he said, but it was not clear when they might be deported.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch urged Malaysia to free all the detainees, who joined the demonstration to protest Suu Kyi's detention in Burma, which is also known as Myanmar.

"By detaining Burmese asylum seekers who were calling for democracy in their homeland, Malaysia was broadcasting support for Burma's despotic generals," the group's deputy Asia director, Elaine Pearson, said in a statement late Tuesday.

The UN refugee agency has registered more than 48,000 refugees in Malaysia, most from Burma. But community leaders estimate the number of people from Burma living in Malaysia is about twice that.

Those caught staying illegally face arrest and can be whipped as punishment before being deported. The government said recently that those who flee persecution in Burma and are registered as refugees are generally not deported.

Concerts, candlelight vigils and other gatherings for Suu Kyi's 64th birthday were held in cities worldwide last week. She has spent more than 13 of the past 19 years in detention without trial, mostly under house arrest.

Suu Kyi is being held in Rangoon's Insein Prison while being tried for violating the terms of her house arrest when an uninvited American man swam secretly to her closely guarded lakeside home last month and stayed two days. If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison.

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