oil on canvas
60" x 36"
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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