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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Irene Fernandez on mend after heart failure


Human rights defender and NGO Tenaganita's director Irene Fernandez is recuperating well at the Serdang Hospital's coronary care unit, a day after collapsing from massive heart failure, her husband Joseph Paul said today.

Irene was on her way from Seremban to attend a briefing on Bersih's people's tribunal on GE13 in Subang Jaya when she suffered breathing difficulties, collapsed and was rushed to hospital by her driver.

Doctors revived her and performed an angiogram but found that her heart was all right, with no blockages. They are still monitoring her condition.

"The doctors say she is better than she was yesterday...she's conscious but can't speak because she is hooked up to tubes. What she needs is rest, lots of prayers and moral support," Joseph said over the phone.

"She is a bit tired so she cannot take too many visitors at the moment but we really thank everyone for their care and concern. Hopefully, she will pull through."

Joseph said that Irene's family were also surprised to learn of her collapse as she was always very active and had not complained of any heart problems before.

Vocal champion of migrants

Born in 1946, Irene began her career as a high school teacher but has been a vocal champion of migrant, workers and women rights for nearly four decades.

Through Tenaganita, she often spoke up against maid abuses in Malaysia and unfair police crackdowns on migrants.

The organisations she has served include Young Christian Workers Movement (Brussels),  Consumers Association of Penang (CAP),  and the All Women's Action Society.

In 1991, she founded Tenaganita which is based in Kuala Lumpur. It runs welfare programmes and defends the rights of over three million migrant workers in Malaysia.

In 1996, after documenting migrant rights abuses at detention centres, Irene was charged for "maliciously publishing false news" but challenged the claims and was acquitted in 2008, after 13 years of court battles.

Because of this, she was barred from standing as parliamentary candidate in the 2004 general elections. Irene has three children.

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