Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia arrested five members of the Hindu Rights Action Force, or Hindraf, under the country’s Internal Security Act, allowing for indefinite detention without trial, deputy internal security minister Mohamed Johari Baharum said.

The order for the arrest was signed by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is also internal security minister, Baharum said on Thursday. “We will be issuing a statement later," inspector general of police Musa Hassan said. Malaysian police have arrested more than 300 people for unauthorized demonstrations in the past month as tensions rise before possible early elections next year.

Thursday’s arrests were the first under the security law since the protests began and targets a group that the Prime Minister said is trying to destroy racial unity in the multiethnic nation.

Hindraf brought together about 10,000 Malaysian ethnic Indians on 25 November in a Kuala Lumpur rally demanding an end to alleged racial discrimination. Police fired water cannons and tear gas to disperse the group.

Earlier, last month, about 40,000 members of Bersih, a coalition of Opposition groups and non-governmental organizations that campaign for free and fair elections, gathered in Kuala Lumpur to demand changes in the electoral law.

Bersih organized another rally on 11 December when about 150 members of the group gathered 2 km from the Parliament after police lined roads with barbed wire.

Hindraf’s actions are “a betrayal of our country," Abdullah was cited as saying by state news agency Bernama on Thursday.

Malaysia, like neighbouring Singapore, requires organizers to seek a permit for most public gatherings.

The Internal Security Act was used in the 1960s to quell a Communist insurgency and, more recently, to detain suspected Islamic militants after the 11 September terrorist attacks in the US.

The South-East Asian nation in 2001 detained nine men, including the son of an Opposition leader, on suspicion of being involved with an Islamic group that was allegedly plotting to overthrow the government.

Nik Adli Nik Aziz, son of the chief minister of Opposition-controlled Kelantan state Nik Aziz Nik Mat, was released in October 2006 after five years in jail.

Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang condemned the arrest and said If the activists are guilty of sedition, they should be charged in court where they will be allowed to defend themselves, he said.

Chan Tien Hin contributed to this story.