Malaysians must not regard the 22,000 prisoners in jail as "dregs of society" who do not deserve to be treated as human beings

Media Conference Statement
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Petaling Jaya, Saturday): The Inter-Parliamentary Union censure of the Malaysian Government for not complying with the minimum international standards for the treatment of prisoners as well as international principles that there shall be no "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" in the case of DAP Deputy Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Guan Eng, has highlighted the urgent need for prison reforms in Malaysia.

I wish to confirm the meeting of political parties, NGOs and concerned Malaysians on prison reforms which I am convening at Parliament House on Wednesday, 3rd March 1999 at 10 a.m. to spotlight the  national focus on the prison conditions of 27,000 prisoners in the  22 prisons in the country.

When on Monday, I said that for the past six months, Guan Eng had to sprawl on the cement  floor or stand against the wall to read or write in his cell in Kajang Prison as an example of the Malaysian prisons failing to meet with minimum international standards for the treatment of prisons, I received some strong reactions.

There was  the view, even among DAP supporters, that I am talking too much on the prison  conditions only after the  imprisonment of Guan Eng and that this  is "not in very good taste".

 This is one such posting on the Internet: "I am sure in all your years in the Malaysian Political arena, you are aware of the conditions of the Prison. Please don't overkill the situation."

Another sent this Internet posting:

"Dear Sdr LKS , I understand how  you felt about your son LGE (who is in prison). All the while I have a burning in my heart that he is convicted and jailed(in justice). But I wonder if today LGE is not in JAIL! Sdr LKS are you sure this so called problem would be taken note by you?"

Some of these criticisms are valid. Why havenít I in my 30 years in Parliament ever made a big issue about the prison conditions in the country failing to comply with minimum international standards?

The simple answer is: I did not know about it, until Guan Eng was imprisoned and I have first-hand information about the prison conditions in the country.

In fact, when I revealed in September that Guan Eng had to sleep on the cold hard cement floor, without any mattress and which caused him serious back pain, that he was locked in his cell 24 hours a day with a light which is also on 24 hours a day, that there was no bed, table or chair in his cell, that he had to drink tap water which caused him diarrhoea, and not allowed out of the cell for exercises, lawyers were shocked for they knew nothing about the harsh, cruel and inhuman conditions in the prisons.

This should be even more surprising than MPs not knowing about the real conditions in the Malaysian prisons, for lawyers have clients in the prisons. Furthermore, lawyers have also been jailed  in the prisons for a variety of offences and the legal community should therefore be  fully aware of the sub-standard prisons conditions in the country.  But this is not the case.

There is a need not only for prison reforms, but to find out why in the past four decades, there had been such total national ignorance about the prison conditions in Malaysia failing to meet mimimum international standards and the lack of an articulate and vigorous movement in the country calling for prison reforms as is the case in other countries.
I apologise for failing to raise the issue of prison reforms in my years in Parliament, but I intend to make up for this omission - not just because of Guan Eng, but also for the sake of 27,000 prisoners who have the right to be treated as human beings.

However, I am concerned about the view held by certain Malaysians that the prisoners in jail are "dregs of society" who do not deserve to be treated as human beings, and the public should not bother about the prison conditions in the country, even if they fall  far short  of the  minimum international standards.

I do not agree with this view, for the "Justice For All" campaign launched by the DAP must include justice for all prisoners as well.


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