Let more prisoners out to curb spread of Covid-19, NGO urges govt

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PETALING JAYA: Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) has called for the government to expand the scope of inmates deemed eligible for release on licence (ROL) to lower prison capacities in light of Covid-19 outbreaks at numerous facilities.


On Saturday, a then record 869 cases were reported nationwide, with 186 of those detected at the Penang Remand Prison, Seberang Perai Prison and Alor Setar Prison.

While the government has pledged to grant ROL to minor offenders sentenced to less than a year in prison with under three months of their sentence remaining, LFL wants the government to extend this to include non-violent offenders, inmates who have served two-thirds of their sentence and prisoners from at-risk groups.

“There is no information as to how many inmates were released under the previous criteria (less than three months). This is too narrow a scope to properly address the overcrowding issue or curb the spread of the virus,” the human rights lawyers NGO said in a statement today.

LFL said foreigners or immigrants currently being held in remand or convicted of minor offences or immigration breaches should be immediately repatriated to their countries of origin.


“The retooled SOPs as suggested by health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah would have a negligible effect if capacities aren’t lowered.

“It has been reported that prison facilities intended to hold 52,000 inmates are currently housing 73,000 prisoners. This negates the benefits of any SOPs established,” it said, adding that aside from the prisoners, the prison guards and their families are being put at risk.

LFL cited Article 5 of the Constitution which ensures a “right to life and liberty,” which they said must be preserved despite one’s criminal charge or conviction.

It was previously reported that some countries released inmates once Covid-19 was recognised as a pandemic.

This includes Indonesia, which released 30,000 prisoners in April; Turkey, which passed a bill for the release of 90,000 inmates in the same month; and Iran with more than 100,000 prisoners released to date. -FMT

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