Irene Fernandez
oil on canvas
60" x 36"

(Purchasing Information)

Human Rights Defender

As director of the women's human rights group Tenaganita ("Women's Force"), Irene Fernandez has researched and published reports on numerous issues related to women's rights, public health, and migrant workers. However, it was the release of just one memorandum -- "Abuse, Torture, and Dehumanised Treatment of Migrant Workers in Detention Camps"--that led to her 1996 arrest and the longest running trial in Malaysian history.

Charged with "false reporting" under the 1984 Printing Presses and Publications Act, Fernandez has made over 250 court appearances since the trial began. Ironically, in arresting Fernandez, the Malaysian government has brought unprecedented publicity to Tenaganita's report, which outlines abuses at immigration detention centers including beatings, sexual assaults, extortion, insufficient food and water, unsanitary conditions, and medical care so poor as to lead to needless fatalities. Testimony in the trial has often provided the first opportunity for many former detainees to speak, relaying troubling accounts of mistreatment endured while held in the camps. Though a government appointed investigative panel has uncovered as many of 71 deaths of detainees since 1991, the charges against Fernandez persist.

Irene Fernandez remains free on bail pending the outcome of her trial, and continues her work with Tenaganita, providing education and support to women and migrant workers. However, she remains under constant surveillance and faces 3 years in prison if convicted. In the time since the trial has begun, the Malaysian government has continued to control free speech by using broad legislation as a means to prosecute journalists and other critics of the state. Arrests under the 1984 Act have escalated since 2000, leading some to fear an unfavorable outcome of Fernandez's trial.

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