Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include Lim Yi Wei's call for a moratorium on the persecution of suicide cases.
Thousands of Malaysians have taken to petitioning the Dewan Rakyat and the Attorney General to decriminalise suicide after an unemployed man was fined under Section 309 for attempting suicide
They are petitioning AG Idrus Harun together with members of the Parliament by signing a Change.org petition, started by a group called Minds First on 5 August.
It comes after a Magistrate Court's order against the 28-year-old victim, who will have to spend three months behind bars if he fails to pay the RM3,000 fine for his act, a crime under the Penal Code.
"Ideating or attempting suicide is most often a sign of a serious mental health condition or severe mental distress. Instead of punishing people who attempt suicide, we must help them access the support and services they desperately need," the Change.org petition reads.
Attempts to commit suicide is a crime in Malaysia under Section 309. According to the petition, while the law is not often enforced, its use is not unheard of. It addressed the unemployed man's case.
"Deputy Public Prosecutor Nurilya Ellyna Nor Azmal asked the court to impose an appropriate sentence 'as a lesson...because he had inconvenienced many parties'," it quoted a news report about the case.
In making its case, the petition argues that the criminalisation of suicide prevents people from accessing the support they need
"We urge our members of Parliament and AG Tan Sri Idrus Harun to immediately repeal Penal Section Code 309," it says.
The petition further adds that criminalisation of suicide punishes those who need help and that it should be replaced with mandatory counselling and psychological services are made available to the people who need them the most.
Citing statistics from Relate Malaysia, an organisation working towards raising public awareness about mental health and to destigmatise mental illness, it states that 10 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 Change.org petition says.
"Studies from countries who have already decriminalised suicide, including Canada and New Zealand, have shown that suicides did not increase post-decriminalisation."
At the time of writing this SAYS story, the petition received over 8,000 signatures with hundreds of comments advocating for it
"Suicide is not a crime. Its (sic) someone crying for help," wrote a person from Kuala Lumpur.
"As someone with depression and intrusive self-harm thoughts, having the effects of my condition (of which I have no control of) be deemed as a crime and carrying penalties that might worsen the said condition, this is something that needs to be changed," wrote another from Sungai Gadut.
"From my humble experience working in the clinical field, these people are very fragile and in serious need of attention not just from the family and medical side, but also from the surrounding. I believe that by punishing them will only aggravate the problem, not solving it," another person wrote.
Meanwhile, state assemblyperson for Kampung Tunku Lim Yi Wei has urged the government to consider imposing a moratorium on the prosecution of attempted suicides while the law to decriminalise it is being studied
"While the law is being studied, I urge the federal government to consider imposing a moratorium on the prosecution of attempted suicides," she wrote in a column for Malaysiakini.
"Here, I echo the 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."
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.
If you or anyone you know may be at risk of suicide, please call these Malaysian hotlines:
1. BEFRIENDERS KL
Skype: BefKL Skype 1
Email: [email protected]
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2. TALIAN KASIH
Email: [email protected]
Website | Facebook
For a more thorough directory of resources, head over to the Malaysian Mental Health Association's website.