The federal government should consider a moratorium on prosecution of attempted suicides — Lim Yi Wei

AUG 5 — This week, yet another attempted suicide survivor was prosecuted and sentenced by the court. For trying to commit suicide, the unemployed 28-year-old man was fined RM3,000 by the Kuala Lumpur Magistrate’s Court under Section 309 of the Penal Code which provides for a maximum jail term of one year or a fine or both.

Deputy public prosecutor Nurilya Ellyna Nor Azmal asked the court to impose an appropriate sentence “as a lesson because the man had inconvenienced many parties”.

The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent phases of the Movement Control Order (MCO) has taken a toll on Malaysians’ mental health. Job losses, pay cuts, the isolating effect of social distancing, and uncertainty over the pandemic and constantly changing SOPs are some identified major stressors.

As early as 28 March, a patient under observation for Covid-19 at the Serdang Hospital committed suicide.

In April, a 20-year-old man in Sibu attempted suicide over fears of being unable to return home to Kapit, having run out of money. He was also investigated under Section 309. 

In June, an unemployed 42-year-old man who tried using fragments of a broken window pane to stab himself was sentenced to a month’s jail by the KL Magistrate’s Court.

Driving home the severity of mental health stresses Malaysians are facing, the police reported 78 suicides nationwide from the start of MCO (18 March) till 9 June. There were 64 suicides in the same period last year.

According to former de facto law minister Liew Vui Keong, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) had informed him in December 2019 that amendments required to decriminalise attempted suicide could be tabled in Parliament as early as June 2020.

However, upon being asked by YB Dr. Kelvin Yii (MP-Bandar Kuching) in Parliament, the present de facto law minister YB Takiyuddin Hassan said the AGC is still studying the law.

While the law is being studied, I urge the federal government to consider imposing a moratorium on prosecutions of attempted suicides. Echoing previous calls from NGOs and mental health advocates: those who attempt suicide need help, not a jail sentence or further fines – more so, those who are unemployed and hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis. Each failed suicide attempt should not be looked on as an inconvenience, but a life saved. Now that the survivors live, do we support them and help them get back on their feet, or do we further push them to the brink?  

* Lim Yi Wei is the Selangor state assemblywoman for Kampung Tunku 

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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