The Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) begun its investigations into the custodial death of 24-year-old Bentong Prison inmate, Mariappan Manivannan, a day after his death on June 6.
Suhakam commissioner Jerald Joseph told reporters today that the agency was in the process of determining if there was alleged negligence by the prison authorities or by its hospital staff and facilities.
The investigation was in response to complaints received from Mariappan’s family and supported by rights NGO Lawyers for Liberty.
He added that the meetings to interview the forensic doctor and the prison officer have been arranged.
Jerald pointed out that with the impending reforms, prisons must be upgraded, medical officers must know their serious responsibilities and funding must be provided if there are inadequate facilities.
“So, it’s a combination of many ministers and ministries involved to ensure that no death happens because of responsibilities that are not done properly by prison authorities.”
The poor prison conditions were revealed when Mariappan’s family lodged a complaint with Suhakam against the alleged negligence of the prison staff and the lack of appropriate facilities.
“When I visited him in jail on May 20, he had already said that he was sick. He said that he was put in the prison ward for three days and was only given Panadol as medicine. No doctors visited him at all,” Mariappan’s stepfather told reporters after a meeting with Suhakam.
According to statistics by the Prisons Department, between 2013 and 2016, there were 721 deaths in custody, many of which were due to HIV, cancer and heart attacks, among other illnesses.
The prison office also stated that many of these inmates died while they were under the hospital care, and as such, the prison authorities cannot be held liable.
Calls for prison reform
Meanwhile, Lawyers for Liberty has requested that Suhakam look into the prison procedures again and ensure that prison authorities install CCTVs to monitor the movement of prisoners and prison officers.
LFL also urged that Suhakam investigate the use of the prison management’s budget to fix and upgrade prison facilities as well as to control the quality of food and water supplied to inmates.
The law reform group also said that in light of Mariappan’s case, Prison Act 1995 and Prison Regulations 2000 should be amended to reach international standards.
Earlier this month, the death of Mariappan sparked calls for the government to implement prison reforms.
PKR Women vice-chief Sivamalar Genapathy commented on the inmate’s death, urging Pakatan Harapan to abide by reform agenda and ensure that all prisoners are accorded adequate medical treatment and treated with dignity and respect.
PKR vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar also said that she will propose suggestions to the Institutional Reforms Committee (IRC) on the state of prisons and lock-up facilities, to redirect their focus from punishment to rehabilitation.