Hornbill Unleashed

April 21, 2014

Ensure foreign prisoners have access to legal representation too

Filed under: Human rights — Hornbill Unleashed @ 10:35 AM
Tags: , , ,

Ian McIntyre

Five in every 10 prisoners in Malaysia are listed as foreigners, according to a recent news report. That is to say half of those in our jails are not Malaysians.

Foreign prisoners are said to comprise low-skilled labourers and petty criminals, while of late, it has apparently expanded to include African drug lords as well as white collar criminals who had masterminded the get-rich schemes hatched through the Internet.

Most are, however, caught for basic immigration offences.

According to statistics made available online, 52% of the convicts in Malaysian prisons were foreigners in 2009.

It may have now risen to record numbers based on the growing number of reports on the arrests of foreigners in Malaysia.

Many are said to hail from Indonesia, Myanmar and Iran.

In Sarawak alone, there are 1,287 inmates serving in six prison complexes, of which 25% are foreigners.

It is therefore safe to assume that foreigners with criminal tendencies are straining our legal and penal code systems.

Another example surfaced recently when a senior lawyer filed a class action suit against the government last week.

S Raveentharan filed an application in the High Court, seeking over RM5 million in damages after his Bangladeshi client was said to have being prematurely whipped and jailed.

The alleged irony of it was that the victim Alamin Sheikh Badsha Sheikh, aged 28, was later pronounced innocent by a Penang High Court when his case came up for revision.

Now, Alamin is at an immigration depot awaiting deportation after serving his sentence of six months’ imprisonment as well as being whipped thrice.

Raveentharan argued that his client had already served his punishment, including being whipped before the High Court set him free from the alleged offence of working illegally.

In essence, he was jailed and whipped first before the High Court could hear a revision of his case – a unique situation by itself.

However, putting this case aside as it will eventually face a trial, the crux of the matter is whether foreigners are receiving the best legal care in Malaysia.

Raveentharan thinks so, saying that there are not enough resources allocated to prosecute foreigners in the best way.

“Foreigners are discarded within our legal system, as they cannot afford attorney care, and at times, their embassies let them down by not providing the desired legal representation”, he claimed.

There is also a lack of quality translators present, and the court looks overwhelmed by the high number of cases.

Penang Bar committee chairperson Abdul Fareed Bin Abdul Gafoor said it is known within the legal fraternity that translators must be present in all cases involving foreigners.

However, whether it is being practised effectively is another issue altogether.

Senior defence counsel RSN Rayer said the magistrates must be alert when dealing with foreigners.

There is a clause within our criminal procedure code that the accused must fully understand the charges they are slapped with and this includes foreigners, Rayer stressed.

Human rights lawyer Edmund Bon said that greater effort should be made to ensure that foreigners understand the implications of being caught and charged in Malaysia.

In cases involving neighbouring countries, their nationals seem to be able to comprehend the law as they have resided in Malaysia long enough.

The problem comes when the accused hails from countries in Africa or Eastern Europe, said Bon.

Whatever it is, let us hope that our legal system is well equipped to handle the surge in cases involving foreigners.

In this age of globalisation, our institutions including the legal system, must be able to cope with the growing number of foreigners co-existing with us.

Like us, they too enjoy the universal rights of being a human.

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