Kit Siang suggests MCO offenders given non-custodial sentence, not to overcrowd prisons | Malaysia

Police round up detainees who flouted the movement control order at the Butterworth Court Complex in Penang March 31, 2020. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
Police round up detainees who flouted the movement control order at the Butterworth Court Complex in Penang March 31, 2020. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

KUALA LUMPUR, April 5 — DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang today suggested that those who violated the ongoing movement control order (MCO) should be strictly penalised but kept to non-custodial sentences outside of prison. 

He said jailing MCO offenders would not help in breaking the chain of Covid-19 transmission and flatten the curve of new infected numbers from increasing daily. 

“Even more serious and dangerous, sending MCO violators to jail exposes them to the danger of Covid-19 infections, especially since Malaysia’s prisons are vastly overcrowded with 73,000 prisoners being housed in spaces intended to hold 52,000 inmates in the nation’s 50 prisons,” Lim said in a statement. 

The Iskandar Puteri MP said under such overcrowded prison conditions, social distancing would be impossible. 

“For this reason, the 400 or so MCO violators who have been jailed should have their sentences altered to non-custodial sentences. 

“This is also to protect prison personnel, who would have no personal protective equipment and would be most vulnerable if a Covid-19 outbreak occurs in the prisons,” he said.

Lim even suggested that the government follow the example of other countries that released prisoners from overcrowded facilities, due to the impossibility of maintaining social distancing, unhygienic conditions and the lack of health care resources. 

“On Friday 22,158 Indonesian prisoners who have served two-thirds of their sentences were released in a bid to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission in overcrowded detention facilities. 

“In India last week, the country’s Supreme Court asked state governments to consider giving parole to those facing up to seven-year jail terms in a bid to decongest prisons on account of the Covid-19 outbreak,” he said. 

Lim also cited the United Kingdom, where the government announced that lower-risk prisoners at the end of their custodial sentence be considered for early release, out of fear that a Covid-19 prison outbreak could overwhelm local hospitals. 

“Malaysia should do the same to avert a Covid-19 outbreak in view of the overcrowded conditions in prisons by allowing the early release of prisoners, especially the elderly, people within months of scheduled release, people whose charges are misdemeanors or non-violent felonies, individuals whose health leaves them at particular risk from Covid-19, and whose crime involves no physical harm to another person,” he said. 

Prisons Department director-general Datuk Seri Zulkifli Omar recently sent a letter to the Chief Registrar’s Office, requesting MCO violators not be sent to prison since social distancing is impossible to maintain. 

He expressed concern this could lead to a Covid-19 outbreak as the violators’ health status is not known, and instead recommended courts to penalise them with community service punishments, per the Offenders Compulsory Attendance Act 1954.

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