IDPC visits Malaysia within CAHR

On October 1-2, IDPC visited Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to take forward country work under Community Action on Harm Reduction project. IDPC had meetings organised with CAHR country implementing partner Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC). The main focus of the visit was a symposium on diverting drug offenders from mandatory imprisonment into health and social services. IDPC had also meetings with the de-facto Minister of Law, Police Chiefs, civil society representatives, and legal advisors to the Attorney General.

During the visit the positive changes were seen by IDPC in harm reduction policy support and programming, and in transferring clients from compulsory treatment into voluntary and effective treatment services (primarily the “Cure and Care” clinics). These changes show signs of uncontroversial Malaysian approach to drug use. Malaysian authorities like the Ministry of Health and the National Anti-Drugs Agency (NADA) in association with MAC made a great progress over recent years in scaling up the provision of NSP, OST, and community-based treatment across Malaysia. These services have the support of political and religious leaders in the country.

The less positive aspect of the visit was the lack of progress on changing laws that still criminalise drug use and the processes by which Malaysian police and prosecutors deal with arrested people who use drugs. The dominant view of people who use drugs amongst senior officials and (reportedly) the general public, is that they are primarily responsible for allegedly widespread street crime such as bag-snatching by motorbike riders, therefore deserve tough punishment. The current process faced by people who use drugs after arrest is a mandatory 14-day remand in custody while a bizarre assessment process (involving urine testing and an obscure medical assessment) is carried out to determine whether the individual will be considered an “abuser” or “drug addict”. Court appearances are often severely delayed, during which period the arrested individual stays in prison. Sentences include up to two years in a rehabilitation treatment centre or under a supervision order in the community.

During visit to Malaysia in 2011, IDPC had meetings with officials who were open to discussing an agenda for reform that would allow more diversion of minor drug-related cases from criminal justice processes. But little progress has been made to advance such reforms. Fortunately, there are two potential opportunities: a committee of legal experts is reviewing the efficiency of the 14-day remand process, which may recommend the adoption of more humane and efficient processes for people caught with the possession of drugs, and; a positive meeting with the de-facto Minister of Law, who was clearly well informed on the issue of diversion and decriminalisation, and promised to seriously consider and act on the recommendations of the committee of legal experts.

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