(Petaling Jaya, Sunday): Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, Datuk Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said in Penang last night that the government never advocated any "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment of prisoners in Malaysia.
He said although prison was not a five, four or three-star hotel, the situation in local prisons had never been different from prisons in developed countries.
He said he had heard and read in magazines of "worse" situation in prisons in other countries.
Abdullah made these remarks when he was asked by the press to comment on the report of the Inter-Parliamentary Union Fact-Finding Mission to Malaysia which concluded that DAP Deputy Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Guan Eng’s conditions of imprisonment failed to meet minimum international standards for the treatment of prisoners as well as international principles against "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment of prisoners.
The IPU fact-finding mission, comprising Clyde Holding, former MP and Minister, Australia, former President of the IPU Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians; Mahinda Samarasinghe, MP, Sri Lanka, member of the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians and Ingeborg Schwarz, Committee Secretary, IPU Human Rights Programme Officer, visited Malaysia on 30th Nov - 2nd Dec. 1998 on the human rights case of Guan Eng. The IPU had been studying Guan Eng’s case since 1995 after he was arrested under the Printing Presses and Publications Act and Sedition Act.
The IPU Secretary-General, Anders B Johnson informed me by telefax from Geneva on Friday that the IPU fact-finding mission’s report had been fully endorsed by the IPU Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians which met in Geneva at its 84th session from 1-4 February 1999.
I have also been informed that the IPU Secretary-General had earlier met the Malaysian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Hamidon Ali to convey to him the report, decision and the IPU's concerns as regards the case of Lim Guan Eng as well as the pardon appeal.
The IPU Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians, which
adopted a resolution calling for Guan Eng’s full pardon to be treated as
"a matter of urgency" also said, among other things:
"8. Reiterates its conviction that in making the alleged statements held as offending, Mr. Lim Guan Eng was merely exercising his right to freedom of speech and his function of oversight of the Executive, and remains deeply concerned at the harshness of the judgment and the limits it sets on freedom of speech and on the right and duty of the elected representatives of the people to exercise their essential function of oversight of the Executive;
"9. Notes that Mr. Lim Guan Eng still enjoys his status as a Member of Parlaiment, and would appreciate receiving information on the possibility he has to attend parliamentary sessions".
Abdullah said yesterday that he had not received the IPU report and added: "I am not going to start comparing our prison situation with what is happening in other prisons but am interested to read the report which I feel contain rather extreme views of what is happening in the local prison."
I can accept Abdullah’s statement that the government never advocated any "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment of prisoners in Malaysia, but the crux of the issue is whether the prison conditions in Malaysia for the 27,000 prisoners are such that they amount to "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment as well as violations of the minimum international standards in the treatment of prisoners.
I also fully agree with Abdullah that prison is not a five, four or three-star hotel. In fact, I would go even further and state the prison is not even meant to be a nine-star or even lower-star hotel. But it should conform with minimum international standards for the treatment of prisoners who should be treated as human beings and not as lower forms of living things.
I also agree with Abdullah when he said that he had heard and read in
magazines of "worse" situation in prisons in other countries - but surely
Malaysia does not want to be compared with the worst and even barbaric
nations in the world?
What I am asking is that Malaysia’s prisons comply with the minimum international standards for the treatment of prisoners as well as international principles against "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment of prisoners which is one of the international commitments of the Malaysian government, as well as consistent with Malaysia’s goals of a caring society and to promote the family unit as the most basic brick of our nation-building.
I have not asked for "nuptial rights" for prisoners, which had been openly suggested by the late Tun Dr. Ismail when he was Home Minister in the sixties and again in the early seventies, but it is clearly inhumane, for instance, when for the past six months, Guan Eng’s three young children could not touch or embrace their father but must talk to him through a faulty intercom separated by a glass barrier.
I have read the IPU Fact-Finding Mission Report and I can assure Abdullah that there is nothing "extreme" in its description of Guan Eng’s prison conditions.
For instance, the IPU report said:
The DAP has put the IPU Fact-Finding Mission Report on the Internet
and those interested can access it at the DAP Homepage:
Abdullah should give serious consideration to the IPU report and institute
wide-ranging reforms so that Malaysia’s penal system would not be looked
askance by the international community for failing to comply with minimum
international standards for the treatment of prisoners.
As a first step, the DAP will call for the establishment of an all-party Parliamentary Committee to investigate into prison conditions for failing to comply with minimum international standards and to propose penal reforms.
I would also ask Abdullah to take note of the IPU’s call that Guan Eng should be "authorised to attend parliamentary sessions and continue to exercise his mandate" and to direct the Director-General of Prisons, Datuk Omar Mohamad Dan to make arrangements for Guan Eng to attend the next parliamentary meeting when it is officially opened by the Yang di Pertuan Agong on April 5, 1999.