Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) refers to the statement to Parliament by Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin on 20 July, in which he disclosed that there have been 298 deaths, which includes six children, in Immigration Department’s depots nationwide since 2020.
This disclosure is shocking, disturbing and raises serious questions. Why did so many die? Particularly, why did six children die?
Incredibly, no explanation is offered by the minister for these deaths. The minister behaves as if such deaths are routine and require no explanation to the public as well as to the families of the victims or the nations from which they came.
This revelation came almost a month after his callous comment regarding the reported deaths of nearly 150 Indonesians in detention centres in Sabah, in which he simply brushed it off as a normal occurrence, saying flippantly, “It would be great if I had the ability to know when someone is about to die.”
It is alarming that despite there having been hundreds of deaths in the immigration depot within a short span of time, there have been no inquest proceedings instituted regarding any one of them. What were the causes of death? Was the local magistrate informed, and if not, why? Are the authorities not interested in finding out?
By virtue of Sections 329 and 330 of the Criminal Procedure Code, it was the duty of the police to investigate these deaths and order post-mortem examinations. Was this done?
Deaths in custody are a serious matter and cannot simply be brushed off without a proper investigation, especially when they number in the hundreds.
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The government should be reminded that it has a duty to ensure the safety and wellbeing of every person in its custody, irrespective of citizenship. It is not enough to propose shallow solutions to deaths in custody, such as improving the deportation process to avoid overcrowding; the cause of deaths must be ascertained, and improvements, reparations or criminal proceedings must be taken against any person liable by act or omission in the death of any detainee.
With the temporary freeze by Indonesia on its citizens coming to work here, these unexplained deaths will only serve to further exacerbate our relations with Indonesia, not to mention our relations with the other countries whose citizens have died whilst in our government’s custody. It is also no surprise that Malaysia remains at tier 3 of the US Trafficking in Persons report for this year.
- that inquests be held into the deaths of the six children immediately. Children do not simply drop dead
- that inquests be held in all other cases where there is no clear indication why the death occurred or who is responsible for it, and in all cases where the deaths raise suspicion that it is caused by the authorities’ acts or omissions
- the government institute a thorough public inquiry investigation into the deaths in the immigration depots and take all necessary policy or legal action to avoid further unlawful or unnecessary deaths in detention centres
Immigration detainees are the responsibility of the state and must be treated lawfully, humanely and in accordance with international law and norms. – LFL
Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty