Custodial deaths, rights to citizenship low hanging fruits govt can quickly solve, says activist

While a new government has been elected to helm Malaysia, there are many issues that continue to plague the Southeast Asian nation, moving forward.

According to Malaysian human rights activist and former parliamentarian Charles Santiago, these are mainly due to legacy issues during Barisan Nasional’s (BN) time in power.

BN’s rule came to a crushing end in 2018. In the recent 15th General Election, the coalition suffered another devastating blow, securing only 30 parliamentary seats.

Pakatan Harapan won 82 seats, not enough for a simple majority. The Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim-led coalition eventually joined forces with BN, among others, to take Putrajaya.

“One of the main things, at the top of my mind (that need to be addressed), is the issue of custodial deaths,” said Santiago, in conjunction with Human Rights Day, today.

“It’s an issue that has been postponed for too long. We avoid the issue, we don’t discuss the issue. This should be a priority for the government.”

Human rights watchdog Suara Rakyat Malaysia, in a report released on Dec 6, said that 21 deaths in police custody were recorded by the Criminal Investigation Unit on Deaths in Custody throughout the year.

It added that of the 19 cases investigated by the unit, only one case led to the prosecution of two police officers, and two detainees, for voluntarily causing hurt.

The three-time Klang MP has been vocal about the issue over the years.

“The solutions are there. Stakeholders have come up with plans but it remains to be seen if police have given any thought to the recommendations made.

“Deaths (in custody) do take place due to health reasons. The inmates are already sick and when they are pushed, or placed in a stressful environment, it takes a toll on them and unfortunately, they die.

“All you need is to come up with a rotation system for doctors to be based at police stations to monitor those held there,” he added.

‘Those born here, to Malaysian mothers, deserve to be citizens’

Santiago, who is also the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) chair, said the other low-hanging fruit that the government could quickly address is the right to citizenship.

Santiago (middle) moderating a panel on the Myanmar issue at the European Parliament in Brussels yesterday. Image: APHR

The Court of Appeal (COA) allowed the Malaysian government’s bid to overturn a landmark ruling by the Kuala Lumpur High Court, which said that children born overseas to Malaysian mothers with foreign spouses, were entitled to Malaysian citizenship.

The issue was widely debated in recent times, with newly-minted Home Minister, Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail assuring that addressing the problem would be among his top agenda.

“We have mothers who are Malaysians but their children aren’t given citizenship. We also have thousands of boys and girls born in Malaysia but are denied citizenship.

“They cannot get healthcare, they can’t sit for examinations, they find it difficult to get jobs and can’t even open a bank account.

“This is an administrative issue, and can easily be fixed. Such a move is not going to change the population in Malaysia,” he added.

He stressed that these were some of the “quick wins” that the new government could achieve.

“There’s also freedom of expression. We need to open up spaces for people to debate and discuss without fear, especially for migrants, refugees and foreign workers,” he added.

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