M’sia: Petition calls for govt to decriminalise suicide following sentencing of unemployed man

This article contains discussions related to suicide. Readers’ discretion is advised.

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA — In the wake of the Kuala Lumpur Magistrate’s Court’s decision to issue a fine to a suicide attempt survivor on Tuesday, Malaysians are calling for the government to decriminalise attempted suicide.

The survivor, an unemployed 28-year-old man, was sentenced to a fine of RM3,000 or a three-month jail term in lieu of the fine under Section 309 of the Penal Code.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Nurilya Ellyna Nor Azmal had reportedly asked the court to impose an appropriate sentence “as a lesson … because he had inconvenienced many parties”.

A petition started by ‘Minds First’ on Change.org is attempting to draw the public’s attention to how the criminalisation of attempted suicide “punishes those who need help and prevents them from getting the support they need”, as demonstrated by the sentencing that took place on Tuesday.

In the petition — addressed to Attorney-General Idrus Harun and Members of Parliament — Minds First, in calling for the repeal of Section 309, proposed making “mandatory counselling & psychological services” accessible “to the people who need it the most”.

They highlighted that studies originating from countries that have repealed legislation criminalising attempted suicide “including Canada and New Zealand have shown that suicides did not increase post-decriminalisation”.

“Ten Malaysians die by suicide every day … We cannot let this go on. Decriminalising suicide is an important step in breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health and ensuring a society where we are able to access support without fear of judgement, discrimination, or punishment,” the statement read.

A signatory to the petition, who disclosed having depression and thoughts of self-harm, said that the criminalisation of attempted suicide “needs to be changed”, as “having the effects of my condition (of which I have no control of) be deemed as a crime” bears the risk of aggravating “said condition”.

The petition attracted 8,160 signatories out of its target 10,000 as of Thursday noon.

Calling for repeal of Section 309 extends beyond decriminalisation of suicide, but destigmatising mental illness in Malaysia: Malaysian Mental Health Association president

Dr Andrew Mohanraj, president of the Malaysian Mental Health Association, in a statement today highlighted that the discussion on repealing Section 309 extends beyond the decriminalisation of attempted suicide, but “a plea for Malaysia to move more towards a compassionate society by destigmatising mental illness and safeguarding the interests of persons with mental illness and their families”.

Highlighting that over 90 per cent of people attempting suicide suffer from major psychiatric illness such as clinical depression, bipolar disorder or psychosis, Dr Mohanraj said — in relation to the sentencing on Tuesday — that “a psychiatric examination” would have been “the preferred course of action” before a court decides to convict a suicide attempt survivor under Section 309.

“If this unemployed man who attempted to jump to death cannot pay his fine and is sent to prison, it is hoped that the Director-General of Prisons refers him to a psychiatric unit for assessment and treatment to prevent any suicidal attempt while in prison.

“Such a referral is provided for under Section 26 of the Prisons Act 1995. Ultimately justice must be tempered with mercy,” he stressed.

Two years ago, then-deputy minister of the Women, Community and Family Development Ministry Hannah Yeoh called for a repeal of Section 309 of the Penal Code, as the provision has not deterred individuals from attempting suicide.

She told New Straits Times that suicide attempt survivors should not be treated as criminals, but should be given opportunities “for rehabilitation and restoration” in terms of their mental health.

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia such as in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, suicide attempts are not punishable by law.

The Philippines even passed a Mental Health Act in 2018, which outlines the protections and rights those suffering from mental health conditions and their families are entitled to, particularly for disadvantaged groups and high-risk individuals.

The Act also provides for the integration of mental health care into the Philippines’ national healthcare framework, including suicide prevention, and lists the obligations and responsibilities of mental health professionals in the country.

In Singapore, attempted suicide was recently decriminalised in January this year.

Previously, those found guilty of attempting suicide could face a maximum of a year in jail and a fine of S$10,000 or both.

CNA noted, however, that only an average of 0.6 per cent of arrests in such cases led to prosecution.

If you or someone you know are in distress and seeking help, please call the following hotlines:

Singapore: 

Samaritans of Singapore Hotline: 1800 221 4444

Institute of Mental Health’s Helpline: 6389 2222

Singapore Association of Mental Health Helpline: 1800 283 7019

Malaysia:

Befrienders:

  • Kuala Lumpur: 03 7956 8145 – 24 hours
  • Johor Bahru: 07 3312 300 / 07 3312 300 (WhatsApp) – 1pm to 12am
  • Ipoh: 05 5477 933 – 4pm to 11pm
  • Penang: 04 2815 161 – 3pm to midnight

Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA): 03 2780 6803

Mental Illness Awareness and Support Association (MIASA): 03 7732 2414 / 6013 8781 322 / 6019 2362 423

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