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Apcet detainees to proceed with lawsuit against government

Participants of the Asia Pacific Coalition for East Timor II (Apcet II) conference held in Kuala Lumpur in 1996 will proceed with an RM87 million lawsuit against the government for unlawful arrest, detention and breach of statutory duty.

The amended writ was filed on Dec 23, 1998 by 36 of the 60 participants who were arrested at the conference.

"The plaintiffs have filed the lawsuit and will be filing the summons for direction (for next stage of procedure) within the next two weeks," human rights lawyer Sivarasa Rasiah told malaysiakini today.

Rasiah, who was among those arrested at the gathering, added that they hoped to get a hearing date fixed by the end of the year.

He also said that among the key evidence of the case would be former Umno Youth leader Saifuddin Nasution who later made a public apology at a forum last month, stating that the storming of the Apcet II conference in Kuala Lumpur four years ago was orchestrated by the government.

Saifuddin had told a 400-strong crowd who attended the public forum on Feb 8 held at the Federal Hotel in conjunction with the visit of East Timor independence leaders Xanana Gusmao and Jose Ramos-Horta that he "deeply regretted the incident".

The 60 participants of the conference were detained for up to six days in the police lock-up and were eventually released without charges. Another 50 foreign participants were escorted by the police to the airport and deported.

Meanwhile, those arrested at the conference said that they were not surprised by a statement made by Deputy Foreign Minister Leo Michael Toyad who told Parliament yesterday that the question of apologising did not arise as those who took part in the East Timor struggle activities did so "without a permit".

"I wouldn't expect them to apologise as the government has never apologised for anything, even when lives are at stake. People have died because of the government's incompetence and yet they have never apologised. So why would they apologise to us," PRM vice president Sheryll Stothard told malaysiakini when contacted.

Stothard who spend one day in the police lock up as a result of Apcet II, however, argued that the conference held was legal and did not require a permit.

"It was a close door meeting and all the ministers we spoke to said there was no need for a permit," Stothard told malaysiakini .

Her statement was echoed by Persatuan Sahabat Wanita president Irene Xavier, who was also one of the conference participants arrested.

"We did not break any law as it was not a public forum. Participants attended the forum through invitation. The deputy home minister at that time knew that we were having the event. Moreover, it was held within our constitutional rights," Xavier said.

She added that although the government owed the participants an apology, it was the last thing that it would do.

Another participant who was also arrested criticised the deputy foreign minister for making the statement in Parliament.

"By not agreeing to say sorry to us, it only means that the minister condones violence because the break up of the meeting was a very violent one," Suaram director Cynthia Gabriel said.

She added that the biggest question in this matter was an apology on behalf of the mob who actually inflicted physical injuries on the participants.