Each year the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers highlights sixteen women, men and organizations that standout in the fight against gender violence. Representing December 4th, is:
Dr. Irene Fernandez
TENAGANITA (Protecting the Rights of Women and Migrants)
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Prosecuted Migrant Rights’ Activist
Dr.Irene Fernandez is an advocate for the rights of migrant, farm and domestic workers, sex workers, and people living with HIV&AIDS in Malaysia. Founder and director of TENAGANITA (Protecting the Rights of Women and Migrants), she has documented conditions in migration detention centers and exposed practices of torture, forced stripping, unsanitary conditions, sexual abuses and police corruption.
Upon making her findings public in 1995, the Malaysian government charged her with “maliciously publishing false news.” Fernandez appeared in court over 300 times during her trial. In 2003, she was sentenced to one-year imprisonment. She is now out on bail, pending appeal of her case.
Fernandez is also a founding member of Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), a human rights organization, and the Asia Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development, a regional women’s rights network. In 2005, she was awarded the Rights Livelihood Award, for work to stop violence against women migrant and poor workers in Malaysia.
In 1995 she published a report enititled: Abuse, Torture and Dehumanised Conditions of Migrant Workers in Detention Centres”. The report contained interviews from more than 300 ex-detainees, gathered during it’s research on (Global) migration, health and HIV/AIDS. For this report she was arrested. The trial lasted seven years, prior to her conviction and inprisionment. Her passport was held by the courts and as a convicted person she could not stand for office. Martinez said:
[“On the first day of my trial, I had stated to the press that since the government had refused to conduct its own independent inquiry, this trial will then become the public inquiry I asked for. We hope that through the trial, the truth will be revealed. As far as we are concerned, we raised, in a legitimate way, with authorities, issues of public concern, e.g.:- problems faced by migrant workers, inside and outside detention centres”. Irene Fernandez, June 1997]
In essence, the court trial became a vehicle for exposure of the injustices in the detention system. In October of 2008 the High court resumed Martinez’s case, and on November 24th, 2008, her earlier conviction was overturned and she was acquitted, her year imprisonment was set aside. At 62 and 13 years later, she has been freed. The process of her trial has exposed problems within the court system. Calls are now heard to repeal the “false news” offence of the Printing Presses and Publications Act, and provide humane treatment to migrant workers.
Honors and Notations
2005 Right Livelihood Award – International. A USA recipient is, in 2008, Amy Goodman.
GERAKAN MANSUHKAN ISA (ABOLISH ISA MOVEMENT)
PRESS STATEMENT: 2ND DECEMBER 2008
ISA itself has served as an instrument of terror of the State
I Own My Vote, PUMA, The Denver Group, Just Say No Deal