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Pandemic action is required in detention centres too

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic which has beset the world and made a strong entry into Malaysia, Eliminating Deaths and Abuse in Custody Together, EDICT, calls upon Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin to pay particular attention to detention centres in Malaysia.


In recent months, during coroner’s inquests, evidence has emerged of wretched conditions in lockups in Selangor and in Kuala Lumpur. It is very likely that conditions are no different in other lockups around our nation.


From the evidence of detainees, lockup staff and doctors, we know of many failings in our lockups. There is a plethora of concerns. We highlight four.


First, detainees don’t have a sufficient supply of drinking water. Thanabalan Subramaniam, who died in Shah Alam central lockup, had to quench his thirst by drinking flush water from a squat toilet. One of his cellmates testified that they captured water from the toilet using a bottle.


Second, detainees basic needs are not fulfilled. They live in close quarters in overcrowded, poorly ventilated cells, sleeping on wooden platforms. They are unable to brush their teeth or have showers. They are exposed to diseases such as leptospirosis and contract skin diseases.


Third, detainees medical needs are not fulfilled. When they are sick, they do not receive prompt medical attention. Even when they are prescribed with medicines, they are unable to take them as prescribed. Worse, some detainees who are severely ill are detained in lockups.


Fourth, lockup staff are anxious that their personal health is put at risk whenever they are in lockups or with detainees.


We have highlighted conditions about which direct evidence has been given in coroners courts in recent months. We know the scourge of deaths and abuse in custody is not limited to lockups. The scourge is found also in immigration detention centres and in prisons.

Police officers, prison officers, immigration officers and their detainees – as well as medical personnel who may treat them – are at extremely high risk of contracting contagious diseases, including COVID-19.


We urge the Home Minister to do the following:


First, establish stricter criteria about evidence which must be in-hand before detaining anyone. This will reduce overcrowding of lockups.


Second, discipline any officer-in-charge who detains a person who has not been certified fit for detention by a medical officer.


Third, take urgent action to rectify failings in lockups – for example, fix broken ventilation systems and provide adequate water.


Fourth, establish goals, measures and means to ensure detainees’ have access to urgent medical attention and to prescribed treatments.


Fifth, initiate urgent cleaning, sanitization and housekeeping of all detention facilities.

Sixth, test all to-be-detained persons for COVID-19 and admit them to detention centres only if their results are negative.


We remind the Home Minister that there is clear evidence of serious failings which threaten the health and welfare of officers and of detainees. We urge him to take prompt action.




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©2020 by Eliminating Deaths & Abuse In Custody Together (EDICT).