DAP calls for establishment of a commission of inquiry  to propose penal reforms to ensure that  Malaysia complies with international minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Thursday): While the government’s  announcement  that all prisoners in Malaysia would be given mattresses is welcome, Malaysia has still a long way to go  to improve jail conditions to comply with international  minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners.

It is most regrettable that it has to take a  national and international furore over the prison treatment of two political leaders, firstly DAP parliamentarian Lim Guan Eng and currently former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri  Anwar Ibrahim to bring about a glacial improvement as in  providing mattress for every prisoner

Providing mattresses to prisoners by itself will not significantly uplift Malaysian prison conditions as to comply with the international minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners.

Malaysia has violated the  United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders 1955 and approved by the United Nations Economic and Social Councils in 1957 and 1977.

These UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners stipulate, among others:

It is no exaggeration to say that Malaysia’s prison system has violated everyone  these most basic minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners.

If Malaysia's penal system meets the minimum international standards, whether in terms of food, prison cell, imprisonment conditions or medical attention, there would not be the penal scandal of  a very healthy young Member of Parliament, Lim Guan Eng, losing 10 kg and developing multiple ailments six months after incarceration at the Kajang Prison.

Guan Eng entered Kajang Prison as a  very healthy young Member of Parliament on August 25 1998 but  very soon, he suffered severe back aches as a result of having to sleep on the cold hard cement floor, without any mattress, bed or bedsheet whatsoever - which were clear violations of minimum international standards for the treatment of prisoners.

Guan Eng started having serious back pains on the third day in jail, by the fourth day, 29th August 1998,  his back pain was so excruciating that he could hardly sleep that night, tossing and turning  the whole night.  But he could not go to the prison clinic the next day because it was a Saturday and the clinic doctor was off, and as Monday was August 31 and National Day, he had to wait three  days until Tuesday, Sept. 1, 1999 for his first visit to the hospital clinic.

His first  visit to the prison clinic was memorable. He was checked by the hospital assistant, and Guan Eng winced with pain when the hospital assistant touched his backbone, and when he went to the part which hurt most, Guan Eng jerked in

Guan Eng never had migraine before  but in prison he had splitting headaches. He also developed serious sinus problem.  All these ailments ensured that Guan Eng could not  have proper sleep. For the first month, Guan Eng had to drink tap water.

Anwar Ibrahim is now suffering the same ordeal of prison conditions which do not comply with international minimum standards.

Until its implicit admission that it had failed to comply with international minimum prison standards by providing prisoners with mattresses, the government had previously rejected criticisms of its prison conditions with the Prison Department misleading top government leaders, like the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi causing them to make  foolish and insensitive statements as saying that  criminals could not expect to receive treatment similar to that  provided by ``three-, four- or five-star hotels.''

Malaysia should be more serious in our international commitments and obligations, especially as we are now a member on the United Nations Security Council.

The Malaysian penal system has also run afoul of the  "Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners" adopted and proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 45/111 of 14 December 1990, such as:

Nobody is asking for  ``three-, four- or five-star hotel'' treatment for the 27,000 prisoners in Malaysia, but we cannot claim to have honoured our international commitments to comply with international minimum prison standards until our prisoners feel that they are "treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings".


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong