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Irene Fernandez – A beacon of light to the downtrodden

Irene Fernandez

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Aliran deeply mourns the passing of Irene Fernandez on Monday, 31 March 2014. She was a passionate advocate of justice and human dignity.

The cause of human rights has lost a staunch fighter who courageously stood up in defence of fairness and the just treatment of  unfortunate migrant workers who are often exploited and mistreated by unscrupulous employers and agencies.

She was dedicated and determined in pursuing her cause for the welfare of the downtrodden. And like all human rights advocates everywhere, she was persecuted by a government that does not brook any defiance by anyone in the pursuit of justice.

She was charged in 1996 for publishing false information in trying to expose the outrageous beatings and sexual violence against detainees by prison guards and the inadequate food and water in Malaysia’s immigration detention camps. This maltreatment was exposed in a report released by her outfit, Tenaganita, in 1995.

She was finally convicted in 2003 after seven years of trial and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment. Her conviction was finally overturned in November 2008 upon appeal.

Her legal battle set a record for being the longest in our legal history, dragging on for an unbelievable 13 years. This protracted saga prevented her from contesting in two general elections – in 2004 and 2008. But it did not discourage her or dampen her passion to take up issues.

Some people just don’t give up. Irene was one of them. She was a source of strength and comfort to the helpless and marginalised in our society. Indeed, she set a high standard of selfless work in coming to the aid of the most downtrodden of human beings, whom she saw as God’s creation.

READ MORE:  Everyone's a critic: Human rights in Asean - The cartoonists' perspective

Aliran executive committee
1 April 2014

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