Uthaya on new mission to bring prison reforms

Opinion  |  S Thayaparan
Published:  |  Modified:

Lawyers for Liberty is deeply concerned over the recent suggestion by former Court of Appeal judge Mohd Noor Abdullah that the detention conditions in prisons be made worse, by among others making it infested with rats, cockroaches and mosquitoes as a form of deterrence. Incredibly, Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed also agreed to the judge’s inhumane and cruel suggestion that is more appropriate in medieval times than in this day and age.”

- Lawyers for Liberty

INTERVIEW For the record, this was the same judge as reported in The Malay Mail, “The retired judge complained that such ‘huge’ sculptures of non-Muslim deities would make the Muslim-majority feel threatened. He also insisted that Islam comes above other faiths in the country, citing the Federal Constitution which states that Islam is the religion of the federation.” So there is that, too.

The fact that former Hindraf leader P Uthayakumar had to make a Hail Mary and apply to the judiciary on tenuous legal grounds to compel the federal government for a royal commission of inquiry should come as no surprise to people who know Uthayakumar and who are aware of the horrendous conditions that prisoners face every day in prisons in Malaysia.

After being a guest of the state where he was not treated like any other political prisoner - the reasons for this are well-established - Uthayakumar took it upon himself to challenge the state on the treatment of his fellow inmates. It says a lot about Uthayakumar who persists in fighting the right fight even though many in his place would just attempt to latch on to the most convenient political issue and forget about those left behind.

I visited Uthayakumar in jail before the treatment meted out to him got worse, where he told of his new-found calling of prison reform because “I look around and see so many people who go back to crime because this atmosphere encourages them to embrace the life they left behind outside prison instead of channelling their energies to something useful.”

To understand the ordeal of a man who wants prison reform in this country, readers are encouraged to read a Malaysiakini interview concerning his treatment - and Uthayakumar’s letter to the PM republished on DAP leader Lim Kit Siang’s blog.

It is a matter of public record that I was extremely critical of Hindraf but a friendship soon formed with Uthayakumar. Somehow, we always manage to reconnect and in the first of this two-part interview, Uthayakumar describes his ordeal of being a guest of the state.

What was the mistreatment against you personally?

Uthayakumar: On the very first day of my prison life, I was forced to remove my slippers before entering the Prison Deputy Superintendent’s office, sat on the floor when talking to him who was seated on his chair (behind a table). Thereafter, I was imprisoned with common criminals...

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