Home Civil Society Voices Saifuddin’s rejection of detention centre abuse allegations unacceptable

Saifuddin’s rejection of detention centre abuse allegations unacceptable


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Lawyers for Liberty refers to the statement made by Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution on 9 December, in which he said that it is “unfair” for the public to “overplay” the issue of ill-treatment of detainees in the Kimanis Detention Centre in Sabah.

It is unacceptable and contrary to good governance for the home minister to dismiss outright this very serious complaint on video by a detainee. Instead of ordering an inquiry, Saifuddin puts the blame instead on the detainees by alleging that their unhealthy physical state was something that occurred before they were detained.

This is one of the most specious and ridiculous responses ever advanced by a home minister in the face of custodial abuse.

The migrant in the video complains of lack of food and water and medical attention. He looks emaciated and sickly and weak. But Saifuddin simply ignores all of this.

The only evidence he uses to support his dismissive response, is a supposed briefing from the Immigration Department denying it – an interested party which obviously would want to immediately dismiss claims of abuse or ill-treatment.

LFL is dismayed that the government which is now led by Pakatan Harapan politicians, who have long heralded themselves as ‘reformists’, are now following in the footsteps of their predecessors. Allegations of abuse at detention centres are serious matters which warrant an immediate and thorough inquiry or investigation by the government.

International law dictates that all persons deprived in detention shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, as stated in the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) and Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

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Malaysia acknowledges the same principle under Article 5 of the Federal Constitution, which safeguards the life and liberty of any person in Malaysia, a right that extends to migrants who are being detained in immigration depots.

The allegations of the horrid conditions of migrants in detention centres in Malaysia are not new or surprising. The Indonesia-based rights group, Sovereign Migrant Workers Coalition, reported that there had been 149 deaths of Indonesian nationals detained in immigration detention centres in Sabah, over a span of 18 months from 2021 to 2022. The group further state that there is abuse and ill-treatment of migrants in detention based on the testimonies they collected from former immigration depot detainees, which prompted the Indonesian foreign ministry to query our government on the allegations.

The treatment of migrants is an important matter that must be looked at seriously by the government as it could affect bilateral relations with other states which will have an adverse effect on our economy, with several industries heavily reliant on migrant workers. This is of course apart from the brute and inhumane image our country gets when migrants are treated in this manner.

It was only in July of this year that the Indonesian government imposed a temporary freezing of delivery of migrant workers in Malaysia for breaching an agreement that was aimed at improving the protection of Indonesian domestic workers in Malaysia.

The home minister must not just accept “briefings” from the Immigration Department at face value. In recent times, allegations of ill-treatment of detainees in immigration depots have been highlighted time and again, only for them to be ignored or dismissed summarily without an investigation being carried out, or worse met with criminal charges against the whistleblowers themselves.

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Heidy Quah, a Malaysian human rights activist, who detailed the experiences of a former detainee of an immigration detention centre was instead met with a criminal charge under Section 233(1)(a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act.

Rayhan Kabir, a Bangladeshi national who voiced out against the treatment of migrants during a mass raid by enforcement authorities on undocumented migrants during a Covid lockdown, was blacklisted and deported back to his country for his statement.

The home minister responds as if none of these things ever happened and no abuse takes place in detention centres.

Detainees, who are entirely at the mercy of the state, are especially vulnerable, and allegations of abuse must be investigated, not dismissed as false or sensationalised.

We demand the following:

  • There must be an immediate and independent inquiry conducted into the allegations of ill-treatment of detainees in the Kimanis Detention Centre
  • The results of the inquiry must be presented to Parliament and the public
  • informants and whistleblowers must be protected from harassment from enforcement authorities and must not be criminally investigated or charged for coming forward with such information
  • the home minister must publicly undertake that the detainee in the video will not be penalised or punished in any manner for speaking out

Zaid Malek is the director of Lawyers for Liberty

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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14 Dec 2022 8.19am

You guys are wasting your effort complaining.

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