Irene Fernandez Charged Under Printing Presses and Publication Act of 1984 


Urgent Appeal Case: UA990205

AHRC UA990205 Malaysia 05 February 1999


June 1996, Irene Fernandaz, director of Tenaganita, a non-government organisations, went on trial charged under the Printing Presses and Publication Act with maliciously publishing ‘false news\” in Tenaganita’s Report on condition at detention centres for undocumented migrant workers.

Irene, if convicted, will be sentenced to 3 years’ imprisonment or a fine or both. The trial has been lengthy and it continues.

In 1996, there were 449,565 legal foreign workers in Malaysia and estimate of twice that number of undocumented foreign workers. The migrant workers suffer the most abuses. They work as cheap labour in the infrastructure, plantations and factories. They suffer from restrictions on movement, risk arrests, exposed to poor and unsafe working conditions, and discrimination at workplace, and more restrict in their right to organise.

The police questioned Irene Fernandez in relation to alleged criminal defamation charges regardings the organisation’s research, and charged her with withholding evidence when she refused to handover research documents.

From 1993 to 1995, more than 47,000 migrants were detained at Semenyih Detention Centre. There have been abuses and deaths in the detention centre. August 1995, Tenaganita, a non-government organisation, released a reported exposing the inhumane conditions in the detention centre. The Tenaganita reported on overcrowding, unhealthy conditions, insufficient food, water and medical treatment in the detention centres. It was confirmed that at least 45 dead, 42 of them in Semeyih. Ten had died of beri-beri while 12 had died of \”gastric\”. In mid-1996, government sources revealed that 98 detainees had died.


2nd February 1999

Today, the Magistrate, Puan Juliana Mohamed in the case of Irene Fernandez, charged under Section 8A of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, ruled that I am to enter my defence. According to the Magistrate, the Prosecution has proven their case beyond reasonable doubt that the contents of the Memorandum which was published are false. In her opinion the Prosecution has discharged its burden of proving its case beyond reasonable doubt. However, I note that the Prosecution did not produce a single one of the 36 detainees that they said they had interviewed and taken statements under Section 112 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

In my view, the Prosecution relied heavily on the evidence of police and government officers who would be expected to serve their own interests. The Prosecution had conceded that 42 detainees had died while under police custody, yet, despite repeated requests, the post mortem reports were not produced. In fact the defence application that the Prosecution be ordered to produce the reports was dismissed. At the end of the Prosecution case, the Prosecution offered 145 witnesses to the defence. The defence had requested on 4 November 1998 for all the detainees in the witness list as well as the police officer in Kajang who had conducted the inquiry into the deaths of the detainees in the camp, to be made available to the defence to be interviewed. Subsequently, two reminders ( 4.12.98 and 26.1.99) were sent to the Prosecution. However, till today the Prosecution has failed to produce any one of these detainees to the Defence.

The defence intends to call about 30 witnesses. Unlike the Prosecution we will bring ex-detainees to testify as they are the best people who will have intimate knowledge of the actual conditions in the camp. We believe that the truth will be revealed. As I have stated right from the onset, I should never have been charged because of the Memorandum. Section 8A of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, violates our fundamental rights to freedom of expression. As long as this law remains we can never really achieve our aim of accountability and transparency in our society.

We encourage you to continue writing faxes and letters to the Malaysia government. Request the following action to be taken:

to stop persecuting Irene Fernandez for revealing the police abuses, corruption and inhumane treatment of the migrants detained at the various detention centres.
to ratify the ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise; the ILO Convention 97 on Migrant Workers; the UN Convention of the Right of Migrant Workers. Thus, Malaysian government will uphold the rights of the workers by ratifying and implementing the treaties.

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Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, Prime Minister’s Department, Jalan Dato Onn, 50502 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia <br>
Fax: 60-3-2984172, 2383784
Datuk Mokhtar Abdullah, Attorney General’s Chambers, Jabatan Peguam Negara Malaysia, Tingkat 20, Bangunan Bank Negara Malaysia, Jalan Tangsi, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Fax: 60-3-2984172
Ms. Mary Robinson, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations, 8-14 avenue de la Paix, CH 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Tel: (41 22) 9173456, Fax number: (41 22) 9170213, E-mail:

and Diplomatic representatives of the Malaysia accredited to your country.

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : UA990205
Countries :