Press Statement by Charles Santiago in Klang on Saturday, 25th October 2008:

Deepavali 2008: Indians should resolve to be united in the face of continued marginalization

Deepavali greetings.

This festival is associated with many legendary tales. For some people it is to mark the homecoming of King Rama of Ayodhya after a 14-year exile in the forest. Jains celebrate to remember the enlightenment received by their revered saint Lord Mahavira while the Sikhs commemorate it as a day when Guru Hargobind Ji, a political prisoner, was freed together with 52 Hindu kings.

Tamils celebrate it to signify the victory of good over evil.

In short our Hindu friends light rows of lamps, draw elaborate rangolis outside their homes, share sweets and food to welcome goodwill and faith. In this spirit of Deepavali, I call upon UMNO and its ruling component parties to initiate judicial reforms, make concerted efforts to wipe out corruption and cronyism, ensure freedom of the media and abstain from using preventive laws to curb dissent in the country.

Today we have arrived at a point where Malaysia has become synonymous with high-profile murders involving top leaders, the use of Internal Security Act or ISA to jail dissidents without due process, corruption by ruling politicians amounting to billions of dollars, increasing domestication of the media which is linked or owned by ruling parties and further erosion of judicial independence.

The recent arrest of a SUARAM activist for lodging a report against police abuse of power and ban on Hindraf as a threat to national security are worrying signs of a possible crackdown on civil and political liberties.

We also see the government resorting to old-hand tactics of creating a climate of fear through a play on racial sentiments. Racist remarks by government leaders are ignored, Utusan Malaysia is yet to be reprimanded for its seditious publications alluding to a well-respected lawmaker and personal friend Teresa Kok while journalists and bloggers are nabbed under the ISA.

As Deepavali dawns, I would like to urge Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to implement durable reforms and not just tinker at the margins of ineffective mechanisms which would create further political and economic instability in the country.

For a start, I call upon Abdullah to free prominent blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin, the Hindraf five and other ISA prisoners.

As we partake in this celebration of lights, let us come together to demand that the government executes fundamental changes to bring about a transparent and accountable system of administration.

Let this Deepavali mark a stop to cosmetic efforts by UMNO and its ruling component parties.

On this auspicious occasion, I call upon the Indian community to stay united and work together to promote and protect the rights of Indians and all Malaysians in the wake of the economic crisis and continued harassment and marginalization of the community by the state.

Happy Deepavali.

* Charles Santiago, MP for Klang