Overcrowded prisons are Malaysia’s real Covid-19 weak point, former deputy minister says

Justin Ong
·2-min read
Inmates queue up to be tested for Covid-19 at the Seberang Perai Prison in Nibong Tebal on October 15, 2020. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
Inmates queue up to be tested for Covid-19 at the Seberang Perai Prison in Nibong Tebal on October 15, 2020. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 25 — Malaysian prisons operating beyond capacity and the failure to address this were why the country’s Covid-19 cases were skyrocketing, said Senator Liew Chin Tong.

The former deputy defence minister pointed out that of Sabah’s 889 new Covid-19 cases yesterday, 502 came from just one prison in the state.

Overall, Liew pointed out that 1,156 of the 2,160 inmates at Sabah’s Kepayan Prison have tested positive for Covid-19, or a rate of more than 50 per cent.

The DAP politician then criticised Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin for the failure to protect Malaysia’s prison population that was especially vulnerable to Covid-19, echoing similar remarks of former deputy home minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed.

“I agree with Nur Jazlan’s views that Hamzah Zainuddin prefers to play politics over shouldering the responsibility of solving problems caused by Covid-19 to agencies under the supervision of his Home Affairs Ministry,” Liew said today.

Liew added that convicts were not subhuman and should be treated humanely.

The Covid-19 crisis in the country’s prisons also affected the security personnel manning these as well as their families, which consequently meant the larger Malaysian population, he said.

The senator said he has been raising this point since April when the pandemic had yet to reach its full force, but failed to prod the government into action.

In the early days of the pandemic, humanitarian groups already identified prisons and immigration detention centres as locations with added vulnerability due to the inability to enforce physical distancing in such facilities.

While the government had initially been able to prevent Covid-19 from infiltrating them, prisons and detention centres have now become Malaysia’s main sources of new cases.

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