Survivors of dangerous sea journey convicted amid a rise in hate speech and mass detentions in centres rife with Covid-19.
A group of 31 Rohingya men who disembarked from a boat in April have since been convicted under the Immigration Act, and sentenced to seven months in prison. At least 20 have been sentenced to three strokes of the cane, which Amnesty International has accused Malaysia of “human torture” over. Nine women are also facing seven months in prison, while 14 children have been charged and are facing jail terms.
The prospect of being sent to detention centres, notorious for violence and illness, has become a most stark threat. At least 735 cases of coronavirus were reported in the centres in June, almost 10% of the country’s total.
Refugees and aid workers say detention conditions are cramped and unsanitary, and food is limited.
“It was a horrible situation, the treatment they subjected us to. They took us into the prison, it was small but with so many people, and so many people were ill … it was like we were animals,” said the Yemeni refugee.
“There were a lot of Covid-19 cases … the ill, and those who weren’t, were all next to each other without separation.”
Another Yemeni refugee told the Guardian: “They put me in a jail cell for three days without food, without drink or even a toilet. Then they transferred me to a cell in a big prison where there were 200 people.
“I was in the prison and then we were taken out in handcuffs, all together, and they started beating us. Four of the guards beat us and then said we’re being released. The [coronavirus] and the beatings were agonising.”
Malaysian officials deny poor treatment in the centres. Director-general of health Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said positive cases from detention centres are isolated in hospitals, and those who have been in contact with these patients are quarantined in special facilities.