WASHINGTON - THE Malaysian government has revoked the passport of a Malaysian human rights lawyer campaigning for minority rights and the abolition of a tough security law, Amnesty International said on Thursday.
Mr Ponnusamy Waytha Moorthy, the chairman of the Malaysian rights group Hindraf who has been living in London since he fled the country in December, has sought asylum in Britain, Amnesty's Washington-based Asia-Pacific advocacy director T. Kumar said.
The activist had planned to visit Washington for talks with leaders of the US Congress and Amnesty and other rights groups, 'but it has been put off because of his passport's cancelation,' Mr Kumar said.
Mr Waytha Moorthy had sought the talks to highlight alleged discriminatory policies against minority ethnic Indian Malaysians as well as the arrest under the powerful Internal Security Act of five senior Hindraf members at home.
The five, who led a massive anti-discrimination rally in Kuala Lumpur in December, are being held without trial and for an indefinite period.
Mr Kumar said Mr Waytha Moorthy only became aware of his passport's revocation when he returned to London from Geneva after talks recently with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
'He was shocked to be informed by British immigration officers that Kuala Lumpur has revoked his passport,' Mr Kumar said. 'This makes him de facto stateless.'
'This is the first time I have heard of a political activist's passport being revoked by his own country's government,' he said.
Mr Kumar called on Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to give a 'full explanation on the rationale for the cancellation.'
The British authorities will hold hearings to consider Mr Waytha Moorthy's application for political ayslum, he said.
Mr Waytha Moorthy said in a statement to Amnesty that the Malaysian government revoked his passport in the belief that the British authorities would deport him to Kuala Lumpur where he could be arrested under the Internal Security Act.
'This unwarranted act has given me greater 'inner' strength to continue to struggle for the Malaysian Indians and for the unconditional release of my fellow brothers held unjustly under the Internal Security Act,' he said.
Malaysia's highest court on Wednesday refused to release the five activists, including a newly sworn-in state lawmaker.
Ethnic Indians make up less than eight per cent of the 27 million population of the mainly Muslim-Malay country.
Lawyers for the five said they would appeal on Monday for the Federal Court to review its decision.
Rights groups say 70 people, mainly alleged Islamic militants, are being held under the Internal Security Act. -- AFP