Malaysia: ICJ pays tribute to human rights defender Irene Fernandez

The ICJ mourns the loss of Irene Fernandez, a Malaysian human rights defender who was at the frontline of promoting and protecting human rights, especially the rights of women and migrant workers.

Ms. Fernandez died of heart failure on Monday at Serdang Hospital in Sepang, Malaysia.  She was 67.

She had been admitted to the hospital on 25 March 2014 after suffering breathing difficulties on her way to the Bersih People’s Tribunal on the 13th general election.

Ms. Fernandez lived a life of courage and unwavering dedication defending her causes. She was the founder of Tenaganita, an organization that promotes the rights of migrant workers in Malaysia.

In 1995, she published a report entitled “Abuse, Torture and Dehumanized Conditions of Migrant Workers in Detention Centers.” The report disclosed evidence that 59 inmates, mostly Bangladeshis, died in the Semenyih immigration detention camp due to the preventable diseases of typhoid and beriberi.

Because of the report, she was arrested in 1996 and charged with “maliciously publishing false news”. After years of trial, she was convicted in 2003 and sentenced to imprisonment for one year. Pending her appeal, she was released on bail but was barred from running for parliament in the 2004 elections. In 2008, her appeal was granted and she was finally acquitted after 13 years.

The ICJ sends its condolences to the family and friends of Ms. Fernandez. Her life inspired a new generation of activists in Malaysia who will continue her fight to defend human rights.


Emerlynne Gil, ICJ International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia, t +66 2 619 8477; email: emerlynne.gil(a)

Craig Knowles, ICJ Media Consultant, t +66 81 9077653; email:craig.knowles(a)

Photo: Tham Hui Ying


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