KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — A court sentenced a Malaysian social activist to 30 months in prison on Wednesday for publishing what officials called a seditious letter accusing the government of oppressing the nation's ethnic Indian minority.
The charge stems from an open letter that P. Uthayakumar wrote in 2007 to seek former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's help for ethnic Indians in Malaysia, where ethnic Malay Muslims are the majority.
Uthayakumar was a key organizer of a major protest in 2007 that stunned authorities by bringing tens of thousands of ethnic Indians into Kuala Lumpur's streets in a rare public display of anger.
Uthayakumar has alleged the government does little to help impoverished ethnic Indians and condones the killing of Indian suspects by police. Authorities deny his claims.
A Kuala Lumpur district court convicted Uthayakumar of sedition on Wednesday. He began serving the sentence immediately.
In his 2007 letter, Uthayakumar alleged that many ethnic Indians had died in Malaysia because of "ethnic cleansing" policies, including suspects shot by police or killed in custody.
Separately Wednesday, prosecutors charged three police officers with murdering an ethnic Indian detainee who was found dead in a cell last month. The man, who was held in connection with a firearms case, apparently suffered severe bruises, according to his family and medical reports.
The policemen face a mandatory penalty of death by hanging if convicted of murder.
Activists have long voiced concerns that ethnic Indians form a disproportionately large number of suspects at risk of police brutality. The government has denied any racial bias but has pledged to curb the number of deaths in custody, which are estimated by some activists to be about a dozen every year.
Ethnic Indians comprise less than 10 percent of Malaysia's 29 million people. Accusations of racial discrimination have become a major political problem for the Malay-dominated government in recent years, with many among the ethnic Chinese minority in particular becoming more vocal about the alleged abuse of affirmative action policies intended to help poorer ethnic Malays.