This article was originally published in Dec 2018, but has been updated with recent developments; you can skip to them at the bottom.
So recently, you might’ve also come across the case of an attempted suicide in Suria KLCC last weekend.
You can read more about it here, but to make a long story short, the 49-year-old man, who allegedly had mental health issues, originally went to meet Kepong MP Lim Lip Eng and wanted the MP to help him make a police report. However, Lim had a meeting and couldn’t, so the man left and would later be found in Suria KLCC. Standing on the ledge, he apparently told several stories about the difficulties he faced in life, but nothing seemed to correspond with each other. Eventually, a cop would distract the guy, allowing the bomba to rush in and pull him to safety.
TW: Video below may be disturbing to some.
This situation, while extremely unfortunate, did get us thinking: what happens to someone who attempts suicide in Malaysia, but fails?
The law says that you might be jailed, fined or both
So the first place anyone would look to when it comes to laws about suicide is uh, well our laws laa duh #ihatecilisos. But specifically, it’s Section 309 of the Penal Code that we’re going to have to look at when it comes to dealing with attempting suicide.
We asked our friends over at AskLegal where Section 309’s suicide laws came from, and it turns out that we actually inherited it from the Indian Penal Code, who in turn got it from the British. Singapore meanwhile also has the exact same thing – Section 309 of Singapore’s Penal Code says that attempting suicide leads to a fine, up to a year in jail or both, which kinda shows the colonial heritage of the section. Incidentally tho, while we got this law from the Brits, they themselves have amended it over five decades ago.
This law, first enacted in the 19th century, was made because back in those days, it was believed that by criminalising suicide, it would be the best way to prevent them. However, it might be fair to say that it’s not working – far from it in fact, with suicide on the rise here, especially among younger Malaysians.
“Although suicide is more common among older people in most parts of the world, research shows that suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 15 and 29 in Malaysia,” – Ardy Ayadali of Befrienders KL, as quoted by New Straits Times in 2017
That being said, not everyone who attempts suicide will be successful, as shown in the case of the Suria KLCC suicide attempt. And since the law says that attempting suicide is a crime, means must go jail or pay fine right?
Attempted suicide cases sometimes don’t get sent to court
Yes, we know we just gave you multiple paragraphs on what the law says about attempting suicide, but things are fortunately a lil bit different in real life.
As it turns out, most attempted suicide cases are usually given a ‘No Further Action’ (NFA) remark by either the police or the Attorney-General’s Chambers on a case by case basis. And seeing how most people involved in attempted suicide cases are emotionally and mentally unwell, the NFA remark means that they are spared from being charged with Section 309 in court on top of all the other issues they have already have.
“Attempting suicide is a criminal offence… But if you ask me whether such cases have been prosecuted in court, we (police) would not recommend the cases be brought to court and we suggest the NFA so as not to add more stress to the accused…,” – DSP Yazrie Ismail, Sabah State Police Central Intelligence and Crime Unit officer, as quoted by Daily Express
Yazrie added that police usually suggest for an NFA as the person who attempted suicide would have clearly shown signs of being mentally unstable, and that adding the burden of being charged in court would only intensify their mental and psychological condition.
That is however, not to say that everyone who attempts suicide will not be punished in court. In fact, a quick Google search gave us various results of news articles on people who have been fined and jailed for attempting suicide.
In 2014 for example, a man who slept on the LRT tracks in an attempt to kill himself was sentenced to six days in jail and fined a further RM1,000. Meanwhile, in 2017, an unemployed woman was fined RM2,000 in default of three months of jail after slitting her wrists. But perhaps the saddest incident we found was that of ex-convict Mohd Shaari Talip who was fined RM1,000 after attempting suicide at the Tun Sambanthan monorail station just days after being released from prison last year.
“I just came out of prison… I was distressed with the community’s and my family’s perception of me and decided to commit suicide, but now, I truly regret my actions. I hope the court can give me a chance to lead a normal life like everyone else, and let the 10 years in jail and 10 strokes of the cane imposed on me before this be enough of a lesson to me,” – Mohd Shaari, as quoted by The Star
Fortunately, there are some who are fighting to decriminalise attempting suicide
Section 309 was already making some minor headlines in Malaysia back in August, when Deputy Women, Community and Family Development Minister Hannah Yeoh stated her opinion on the law, labeling it as archaic as well as calling for Section 309 to be reviewed as it doesn’t actually do much in terms of preventing suicide attempts.
“(I am saying) ‘no’ to criminalising suicide for now, unless, of course, the attempt causes injuries to others,” – Hannah Yeoh, as quoted by New Straits Times
Til now,calls for Section 309 to be reviewed and abolished have only gotten stronger in light of the Suria KLCC suicide attempt incident. Victor Tan, deputy chairman of Befrienders KL highlighted the point that not only does Section 309 not prevent suicide attempts, it may even cause the suicidal person to become more encouraged to ensure their suicide attempt is successful to avoid having to be punished for it. Meanwhile, Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, senior VP of the Mental Health Promotion Advisory Council, made it clear to the govt that those attempting suicide have mental health issues and are not criminals.
In any case, no one wants to have to go thru the pain of someone you know and love attempting suicide, and hopefully this could kickstart a healthy conversation about Section 309 and the effects it has on all of us.
[UPDATE 3 JULY 2020]: Unfortunately, a recent suicide attempt garnered attention when it was recently reported that an unemployed man who attempted suicide with shards of broken glass was sentenced to jail by the Magistrate’s Court. He was charged under the same controversial Section 309, and will be jailed for a month.
In light of this, former Minister for Law Liew Vui Keong has reignited the calls for the decriminalisation of suicide attempts.
“I have said this many times before, and I will say it again as long as need be: attempted suicide is a mental health condition. It must be treated medically.
Necessary mental health support must be provided to these individuals. Sending them to prison is not the solution. It never has been and never will be.” – Datuk Liew Vui Keong, former Minister for Law and Batu Sapi MP, as quoted from his press statement
Liew adds that during his time as the Minister for Law, he had made a commitment to ensure the decriminalisation of attempted suicide, even getting the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to begin work on it. Eventually, there were plans for the amendments of the Penal Code to be laid before Parliament by June 2020.
However, you might’ve heard that there’s been a change in govt since then, and so Liew has renewed the call by asking the current Minister for Law Dato’ Takiyuddin Hassan whether the PN govt would be continuing the efforts to decriminalise attempted suicide in the upcoming July 2020 Dewan Rakyat sitting.
Hopefully, when Parliament convenes, we may finally see an end to the archaic laws against attempted suicide.
If you are feeling distressed or suicidal, please call the Befrienders at their hotline at 03-79568145. You can even email [email protected] There’s no shame in asking for help – suicide is never an option.