KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA — The High Court here today (11 August) revised the RM3,000 fine issued by the Magistrate’s Court to a suicide attempt survivor last week to a good behaviour bond lasting over a year.
In line with Section 323 and Section 327 of the Criminal Procedure Code, Judicial Commissioner Aslam Zainuddin set aside the lower court’s order after hearing that the 28-year-old survivor’s depression was so severe that he did not eat for three days.
The man, currently unemployed, told the judge: “My family lives separately from me. I live on my own. I was doing work at a madrasah (religious school).”
Last Tuesday, the 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They highlighted that studies originating from countries that have repealed legislation criminalising attempted suicide “including Canada and New Zealand have shown that suicides did not increase post-decriminalisation”.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”.
Calling for repeal of Section 309 extends beyond decriminalisation of suicide but the need to destigmatise mental illness in Malaysia: Malaysian Mental Health Association president
Andrew Mohanraj, president of the Malaysian Mental Health Association highlighted last week 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”.
Noting 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.