US report raps overcrowded prisons and re-arrest of suspects

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PETALING JAYA: Washington’s annual human rights report has hit out at harsh conditions in Malaysia’s prisons and immigration detention centres, saying more than 700 detainees had died since 2013.

The US State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016 noted the overcrowded conditions of Malaysia’s prisons and detention centres especially in major cities, while criticising the procedures and treatment of detainees in general.

The report quoted government statistics that up to April last year, 721 prisoners had died, an average of 18 deaths per month.

But it said there were no official numbers on deaths at immigration detention centres.

The report, by the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, said prisoners were often caned, and NGOs and media were not permitted to monitor prison conditions.

It said even the access to refugees and asylum seekers accorded to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was not always timely.

Release and re-arrest

The report cited reports on the police practice of releasing suspects only to re-arrest them, holding them in continued investigative custody.

It highlighted the case of R Sri Sanjeevan, chairman of the Malaysian Crime Watch Task Force (MyWatch), who was arrested eight times in two months under different allegations.

The report said police had also stopped lawyers from being present during questioning.

“Police often denied detainees access to legal counsel and questioned suspects without allowing a lawyer to be present,” it said, adding that this was justified to prevent interference, something to which the courts agreed.

“On occasion police did not allow prompt access to family members.”

The arrest of PKR’s Rafizi Ramli was also mentioned to show the practice of arbitrary arrest.

The PKR secretary-general was arrested on April 5 last year in front of the Parliament gate under the Official Secrets Act.

“Human rights organizations and the political opposition criticized the arrest as breaching parliamentary privileges and intimidating other elected representatives to silence,” it noted.