For Immediate Release
21 July 2011
Women’s groups in Malaysia demand the immediate release of our colleague Sarasvathy Muthu, 58 years, a woman grassroots activist since the 1980s, and 5 others who have been detained under the Emergency Ordinance (EO) since 2 July 2011.
EO legislation is repressive and unnecessary in contemporary Malaysia. It denies detainees the opportunity to defend themselves and detention without trial is a gross violation of human rights. We view the arrest of Saras as a form of state violence against a woman activist.
Sarasvathy Muthu, better known as Saras, is the only woman among the 6 arrested under the EO. During her detention, the police have inappropriately focussed on her status as a single woman. We are disappointed that Saras was the only detainee that SUHAKAM could not interview on 18 July. Furthermore we now know she has been rushed to hospital complaining of chest pain. We fear for her safety and health. As such, we request from the Minister of Home Affairs to meet with Saras to give her support and to establish for ourselves that she is safe.
We, the women’s groups of Malaysia, call on the government for the following:
- The immediate and unconditional release of Ms Sarasvathy Muthu and the 5 other PSM detainees;
- Allow Saras and the 5 other detainees immediate and unfettered access to family, colleagues and lawyers;
- Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of Saras and the 5 other detainees; and
- Ensure that she and the 5 others are not subjected to torture or ill-treatment.
We are appalled that this government has detained Saras for her legitimate and peaceful work in human rights, putting away a woman who has worked selflessly for over 30 years to uphold the human rights of marginalised communities.
As a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Malaysian government has an obligation to protect the human rights of those within the country’s borders. The arrest and detention under the EO of the 6 PSM members is a politically-motivated attempt by the government to intimidate citizens who support the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH 2.0).
The lack of transparency, lack of legal protection and the dreadful conditions in which the 6 are forced to inhabit are clear violations of human rights. All 6 currently incarcerated must be released immediately.
Released by the following women’s groups:
- Persatuan Sahabat Wanita, Selangor (PSWS)
- All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
- Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)
- Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
- Perak Women for Women Society (PWW)
- Sisters in Islam (SIS)
- Sabah Women’s Action-Resource Group (SAWO)
- Women’s Centre for Change, Penang (WCC)
Profile of Sarasvathy Muthu
Saras is a tireless activist. Born in 1953 in Batu Gajah (Perak), she is the second of 7 siblings. At a young age, she assisted her father who was a mechanic, to supplement the family income. She was a tailor.
At 17, she joined the Young Christian Workers (YCW) and took part in its many activities which challenged social exclusion and took action to bring change in the home, workplace and society. At 19, she organised workers from the textile and food industry to form unions. These factories were in Jelapang and Tasek. When she turned 20, she became part of the National YCW’s Executive Committee. She was active in Perak, pursuing the rights of textile workers. In Kedah and Penang she picketed with iron and textile workers. By 25 she represented YCW Malaysia at international forums in various parts of Asia.
In 1987, she and a few others, including Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj (Sungai Siput MP and one of the 6 arrested) started Kalvi Kulu (Tamil word for students group) in Sungei Siput, to encourage parents to get involved in the education of their children. Concerned for the young she was involved in running kindergartens, free tuition programs and student camps.
In the late 1980s, Saras was part of many campaigns of the Joint Action Group against Violence against Women (JAG, a coalition of women’s groups now known as the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality) around Malaysia. She joined thousands of women in 1995 for the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China.
In 1992, she was with the grassroots group, Alaigal (Tamil word for “waves”) where programs for plantation factory workers and urban pioneers were organised. She assisted in protests and campaigns against the eviction of urban pioneers and Perak farmers especially the pomelo farmers from Tambun. She was active in the Coalition of Farmers and Factory Workers.
In her struggle to inculcate dignity in those socially excluded, she has faced harassment and arrests from police and the authorities. Like many women who work with grassroots communities, Saras works locally and rarely appears in national papers. Nevertheless, she is highly regarded by her family and the communities with which she is closely associated.