Parliamentary Opposition Leader invites  political parties, NGOs and interested Malaysians to a meeting on prison reforms to be held at Parliament House on Tuesday, 23rd February at 10 am

Media Conference Statement (2)
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): I am issuing an invitation as Parliamentary Opposition Leader to political parties, NGOs and interested Malaysians to a meeting on prison reforms to be held at Parliament House on Tuesday, 23rd February at 10 am.

This is because Malaysian prison conditions fall far short of minimum international standards for the treatment of prisoners.

Two days ago, I had mentioned that the Malaysian penal system has not complied with the "Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners" adopted and proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 45/111 of 14 December 1990, which provides for all prisoners to  be "treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings".

The Malaysian penal system has also ignored the principle that it should  promote "the well-being and full development of the human personality" of all prisoners as they are still members of the Malaysian society.

This is not the only United Nations Declaration on the treatment of prisoners  which have been violated in Malaysia.

Malaysia has also violated 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:

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 losing 10 kg and developing multiple ailments five months after incarceration at the Kajang Prison - and what is even more scandalous, the  Deputy Home Minister, Datuk Abduk Kadir bin Sheikh Fadzir could be so misled despite a personal visit to Guan Eng in Kajang Prison last Wednesday as to publicly deny such a 22-pound weight loss!

Guan Eng is now in his sixth month of imprisonment.  He entered Kajang Prison as a  very healthy young Member of Parliament on August 25 last year and 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 are 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 slightly with pain when the hospital assistant touched his backbone, and when he went to the part which hurt most, Guan Eng jerked in pain.

Guan Eng never had migraine but is now having splitting headaches. He is also suffering from sinus problem.  All these ailments ensure that Guan Eng cannot have proper sleep.

For the first month, Guan Eng had to drink tap water.

Abdul Kadir had said that Guan Eng’s cell had its own toilet facilities. I am surprised Abdul Kadir did not mention that Guan Eng’s cell has also attached bath-room facilities, as he has to  do all his necessities inside his 10 feet by 8 feet cell which is 10 feet high.

I remember Guan Eng telling me about his "attached toilet facilities". It is quite a chore to use the toilet, which is not a flush toilet but "pour water" type.

After doing his "business", he got to wait for the plastic cup (which served as an all-purpose container, including for drinking) to be filled with water before pouring water on the toilet. The toilet has to be poured many times before it is clean.  So it may take five minutes to do one’s "business" but at least 10-15 minutes just to clean it up!  This can be quite a strain when the prisoner is afflicted with diarrhoea, as Guan Eng has found.

When I called for improvement of prison conditions as highlighted by Guan Eng’s experience, it is not just for Guan Eng but for all prisoners.

This is why I have suggested that  all prisoners are immediately issued with mattress on the very first day of their incarceration, and not as at present, only after the third month, so that prisoners henceforth are spared the ordeal  of Guan Eng of having his back  wrecked, probably for life,  by inhumane and cruel prison conditions.

There should be a nation-wide awareness and debate on the need for immediate penal reforms as the alarming rate of suicides of prisoners in the Malaysian jails is clearly related to  the failure of Malaysian prisons to comply with minimum international standards.

So as to ensure that Malaysia conform with the minimum international standards for the treatment of prisoners, there should also be a major improvement in the  salaries and working conditions of the prison service as to give the prison staff the proper motivation to ensure that the Malaysian prison service is one of the world’s  best, most dedicated and most committed to justice for prisoners.


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