Latest prison death a test for PH reform agenda, says LFL

Lawyers for Liberty says 721 prisoners died between January 2013 and April 2016. (Reuters pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) today called on the home and health ministries to investigate detention conditions in Bentong prison and all other places of detention in the country following the death of yet another prisoner.

Mariappan Manivannan, 24, died in the Bentong prison, in Pahang, yesterday after being unwell for about a month.

In a statement, LFL executive director Eric Paulsen said Mariappan’s death would be “a test for the new government’s reform agenda”.

He said LFL was informed by Mariappan’s family that he had been unwell for up to a month before his death, and that for the past one week he had suffered from continuous vomiting and diarrhoea.

“He was admitted to the prison clinic but was not checked by a doctor for a few days. It was unclear if he was ever sent to the hospital, but he died at the prison clinic and the cause of death was attributed to severe acute gastroenteritis.

“That a prisoner could have fallen ill for an extended duration of time only to have his condition ignored, treated in the most minimal manner or sent to the hospital when it was too late is alarming.”

Sadly, Paulsen said, Mariappan’s death was the norm as 721 prisoners had died between January 2013 and April 2016.

“These statistics are an indictment of systemic problems in our prisons that were ignored for far too long by the previous government: cramped and overcrowded detention conditions, poor hygiene and sanitation, lack of clean drinking water, and food and healthcare provision.”

Paulsen urged the authorities to immediately improve access to medical treatment for all detainees including those in police lock-ups, immigration detention centres and prisons, “lest another person needlessly lose his life to a treatable condition or due to wilful neglect of the detention authorities”.

Paulsen also called for an inquiry into Mariappan’s case, either by the Enforcement Agency Integrity Committee or Suhakam to uncover the causes and circumstances surrounding his death.