Malaysia drops attempted murder charges against Indians

Mon Dec 17, 2007 5:30am EST

KUALA LUMPUR Dec 17 (Reuters) - Malaysia has dropped charges of attempted murder against 26 ethnic Indians who took part in a huge protest against racial discrimination last month, their lawyer said on Monday.

More than 10,000 ethnic Indians staged the minority community's biggest anti-government protest on Nov. 25, angered over policies they say prevent them from getting decent jobs or a good education for their children.

Authorities dropped charges of attempting to kill a policeman during a clash at a Hindu temple after the 26 men agreed to plead guilty to three charges of illegal assembly, mischief and damaging property, the lawyer, G.K. Ganesan, told Reuters.

"This morning we met the attorney-general who said to me that he was prepared to drop the attempted murder charge," he said.

The men, who had earlier pleaded not guilty to all four charges, were granted bail of 500 ringgit ($150) each and will return to court on December 27 for sentencing, Ganesan added.

Jail terms ranging from six months to 5 years and fines running into several thousand ringgit are typical sentences set for the charges of illegal assembly and mischief, he said.

"We have to appear with our clients in court on December 27 for the court to decide what kind of sentence ought to be passed," Ganesan said.

Attempted murder carries a jail term of 20 years or life imprisonment.

An opposition leader urged Malaysian authorities to drop all the charges against the men who had been denied bail on the grounds of national security.

"The very fact that the attorney-general had to drop the charge of attempted murder is proof that he abused his powers ... in slapping them with such a serious charge when there is no basis or justification whatsoever," said Lim Kit Siang, head of the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party.

Malaysia has taken a tough line against anti-government activists in recent weeks, which it says is necessary to maintain order before elections many believe will be called within the next few months.

($1=3.332 Malaysian Ringgit) (Reporting by Clarence Fernandez, Editing by Rosalind Russell)