A Singaporean man, who is a retired teacher and a well-known musician, is suing Malaysia’s Immigration Department for RM2.67 million over his 37-day detention in an over-crowded and badly-maintained cell.
Puis Gilbert Louis, who will turn 68 next month, said that his nightmare started when the immigration officers raided his house in Johor Bahru on 9 October 2018 and arrested him.
Based on his statement of claim filed by his lawyer Arun Kasi, the man who owns a valid visa to be in Malaysia until 2 November 2018, was in the house with four other individuals, and one of them was his female friend from the Philippines who also holds a valid visa.
However, the additional three people in the house were friends of his Filipino friend and he is unaware of their origin or their immigration status.
Mr Louis claims that his arrest could be possibly due to the alleged illegal harbouring of the three who were apparently illegal immigrants. But, he expressed that he was not informed if he was arrested for this reason or charged for it.
Detention at Setia Tropika Immigration Office
Upon his arrest, Mr Louis was brought over to the Setia Tropika Immigration Centre (STIC) and during his journey, he managed to use his mobile phone to inform his family and friends of his arrest through Facebook before the officials took away all his belongings including his phone, wallet, cash, house keys, car keys and shoes.
In STIC, he was placed in an over-crowded cell with 100 other detainees. The condition of the space was extremely bad and he could only sleep on a “bare dirty floor beside a foul-smelling squalid open toilet” before he was transferred to the Pekan Nanas immigration camp the next morning.
When he was transported handcuffed the next day to another detention centre, he was kept in an eight-seater truck compartment with about 30 other detainees. This then caused him to have breathing difficulties as he claims to be claustrophobe and suffers from chronic asthma and heart diseases.
With the help of other detainees, he was pushed to an open window in the truck compartment to breathe fresh air, but got completely wet due to the heavy rain that particular day.
Horrible cell condition
Mr Louis claimed that he was detained for the next 36 days until 14 November 2018 and placed in a cell with about 130 people under a cramped condition, although the cell should only house 50 people.
“The condition was so horrifying and terrifying that ordinarily it would not be expected that any human being would be kept under that condition. The toilet was within the cell and was dirty and open. No clean water was available for drinking. Food was provided in an unhygienic condition,” said his statement of claim.
Adding to that, he mentioned that basic necessities were not given to all detainees including mat, pillow, blanket, footwear, toiletries like soap and towel, as well as change of clothing. He also had to walk barefoot and slept on a dirty bare floor.
In fact, he wore the same clothes for the first 14 days, and only got to change his attire after he was brought over to his house so that the immigration officers can look at a CCTV recording there.
As for taking a shower, he only had one after the first 10 days as he managed to purchase soap at an extremely high rate from an alleged privately-operated store.
“A small bottle of drinking water cost RM10. Purchase was limited by amount and time,” revealed his statement of claim, adding that the payments were taken from his wallet kept by immigration officers and from money given by visitors.
Since he was viewed as a relatively rich person, other detainees also took advantage of him and he had to buy items for them in order to avoid being “disturbed or harmed”.
He also said he had to pay RM350 each for three Indonesians for their ferry tickets as they didn’t have the money to get hold of the tickets or were unable to get in touch with their families to arrange for the tickets.
Besides that, Mr Arun also noted that no lawyers were allowed to visit their clients, and family and friends were only given limited access, forcing the lawyer to enter the detention centre posing as Mr Louis’s friend.
Claiming that seeking access to justice was denied by restrictions such as a commissioner of oath not allowed to meet the Singaporean man to have him affirm an affidavit for court purposes, the statement of claim expressed that many other detainees did not communicate with anyone outside for months.
“The condition of detention transgressed all basic standards of detaining humans and was without regard to any minimum standards of humanity and inflicted cruelty against humanity”.
Cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment
Mr Louis said that the treatment he received during his detention “falls within the definition of torture and of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment (CIDTP)” as defined under international conventions. He added that it breaches Article 5 and 7(1) of the Federal Constitution.
In Article 7(1), it is said that no any individual should be punished for actions that were not punishable by law when it was taken, and no one shall suffer greater punishment for an offence than was prescribed by law at the time it was committed.
The statement of claim also revealed that the Singaporean man had written to the Immigration director-general on 1 November 2018 through his lawyers but did not receive any reply, and had also filed a habeas corpus application at the High Court, about a week later (9 November).
However, he was released on 14 November with a seven-day special pass, just a day before his scheduled hearing for his habeas corpus application or challenge against his detention.
Upon his release, the man left Malaysia and his legal challenge was withdrawn because he had been released from detention.
Mr Louis claimed that his detention was unlawful as there was allegedly no valid reason for the arrest and no investigation was done for any offence pressed or no charges pressed against him. He was also not presented before any magistrate.
As such, he pointed out that his arrest violated the Federal Constitution’s Article 5, which says that no one is to be deprived of their personal liberty unless in accordance to law, and that an individual who is arrested shall be told the reasons of the arrest and be allowed to consult lawyers.
On the other hand, Article 5(4) comes with a provision that an arrested non-Malaysian cannot be detained more than 14 days without being brought before a magistrate and with the magistrate’s authority, however a Malaysian has to be produced before a magistrate without unreasonable delay within 24 hours.
Mr Louis also highlighted that infringes on the Constitution’s Article 8(1) promise non-discrimination and equality for all before the law.
As such, he argues that amendment that caused different timeframe given to non-Malaysians shows that it is unconstitutional and unlawful.
In the lawsuit, Mr Louis is seeking a total of RM2.67 million, with RM840, 000 for damages over his distress suffered during his arrest and throughout his detention, and RM1.83 million in other exemplary damages.
He is also seeking a declaration that he was projected to torture and treatment considered CIDTP, and this treatment is prohibited under the Federal Constitution particularly seen in Article 5 and 7. In addition, he also wants a declaration that the amended constitutional clause that allows different treatment for non-Malaysians is unlawful, unconstitutional and invalid.
The lawsuit was filed in the High Court in Kuala Lumpur on 28 May against the Immigration Department of Malaysia’s director-general and the Malaysian government. His lawyer also said that the court papers for the lawsuit have been served on the Attorney General’s Chambers.