Report against Health Minister, Chua Jui Meng for quintuple violation of human rights - the right to life, information, personal liberty, freedom of expression and good governance over the SARS outbreak in Malaysia
Report to Suhakam
- at Suhakam Headquarters
by Lim Kit Siang
(Kuala Lumpur, Tuesday): After the first meeting of the National Committee on SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) last Friday, Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng threatened dire action against me in the name of "national security".
Announcing that the SARS disease had become "a national security matter", Chua said:
AFP reported his open threat of dire action against me. Quoting Chua's warning to the media "not to spread rumours or speculate on the local impact of a deadly pneumonia that is creating a global health scare", the AFP report said:
When associating me with "rumour-mongering",
"irresponsible statement", "global health scare", and warnings about "plunging
tourism" and "economic slowdown", and tying them with "national
security" together with the announcement that the Home Ministry and the
police have "taken cognizance" of my statements, Chua's warning of
dire action against me was most ominous.
As Chua has not lodged any police report against me for the police to initiate investigations of his specific complaint that I had violated a crime chargeable in a court of law, the only police action that could be contemplated is the ISA which has often been sued to arrest opposition leaders on trumped-up charges.
As a lawyer by profession, Chua should know that a threat to violate human rights is a human right violation by itself.
Chua has not only violated my human right in threatening dire action against me such as the invocation of the ISA, he has also violated the quadruple human rights of Malaysians in his handling of the SARS outbreak - the right to life, information, freedom of expression and good governance.
The SARS global epidemic has taken at least 100 lives, infected 2,600 people in some 28 countries in four continents and is threatening to tip the global economy into a recession - and is probably the real reason for the third-time postponement of the multi-billion ringgit economic stimulus package scheduled to be unveiled by the Malaysian government yesterday.
Yesterday, the Health Minister gave a special briefing to editors-in-chief from newspapers on SARS, but his main pre-occupation was not to restore full public confidence by convincing everyone that the Health Ministry is unconditionally complying with the new Cabinet directive of full transparency on the SARS outbreak, but to belabour the point that "Malaysia as good as Singapore in handling Sars" or even better, in his criticism of the Singapore's failure to practise "barrier nursing" resulting in 85 per cent of probable SARS cases in Singapore happening among doctors and paramedics in the hospital setting.
When the "mother of all human rights" - the right to life - is at stake, Malaysians do not have the luxury to waste time arguing with Chua as to whether he has done a better job than Singapore in handling the SARS outbreak, which can be left to a later date as the immediate challenge is not how to do a better P.R. job but to fully restore public confidence that the government is on top of the SARS outbreak with full transparency to the people by giving accurate and timely updated information with no cover-ups whatsoever as happened in the series of previous epidemics which had been aggravated by sheer mishandling and crisis mismanagement, whether coxsackie, nipah or still ongoing worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history.
Chua should be reminded however that although he bragged on March 25 that the World Health Organisation (WHO) acting representative for Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore Joel A. Vanderbug had commended Malaysia for its handling of SARS, the Health Ministry had to admit one week later that there were 59 suspected SARS cases many of which would have occurred very much earlier - which even the WHO was completely unaware or it would not have issued the commendation to be repeatedly exploited by Chua!
That Chua's special session with the newspaper editors-in-chief yesterday to convince them that he was unconditionally complying with the new Cabinet directive of full transparency on the SARS outbreak was quite a disaster could be seen from the New Straits Times "Comment" by its News Editor Balan Moses, after the briefing, entitled "The public's right to all available information on issue of health", which suggested in very polite language that Chua "obviously has not learnt from recent medical history in the country".
The column said:
The column continued:
That Chua has not learnt from the mistakes of the past and appears condemned to repeat them at great cost to the public, including loss of human lives, could be gauged from the announcement at the briefing with editors-in-chief yesterday that the Ministry would no longer give the cumulative number of suspected SARS cases - a big step backwards from the present semi-transparency instead of moving forwards towards full transparency on the SARS outbreak!
In my third email in a week on the SARS outbreak to the Acting Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, yesterday, I said:
In my second email to Abdullah on the SARS outbreak last Friday, I had made five proposals to fully restore public confidence in the government handling of the new killer virus, that the Health Ministry should follow the WHO case definitions of "suspected" and "probable" SARS cases and give a daily update of these two categories of cases.
Yesterday, Chua boasted that unlike Singapore who had 101 probable SARS cases and six deaths (which have now increased to 113 with eight deaths, with 73 recovered and no longer in hospital), Malaysia has only one probable SARS case and one death, which was the same person.
Chua does not seem to realize what
he is talking about: firstly, if he is right that Malaysia has only one
probable SARS case and one death, from the same person, this would mean
Malaysia has the world's highest SARS case fatality rate standing at 100%,
when in other countries, it is established the SARS case fatality rate is
Chua has repeatedly warned that air passengers from the six countries affected by SARS (which should now be seven, including Malaysia), who make false declarations in the "Health Declaration Cards" about SARS could be prosecuted under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988.
Can the Health Minister and the Health director-general be prosecuted under the law for giving false declarations to the people about the state of the SARS outbreak in Malaysia?
As at stake in the issues I have adverted are the quintuple violations of human rights - the right to life, information, personal liberty, freedom of expression and good governance over the SARS outbreak in Malaysia, Suhakam should immediately commission a full inquiry into the human rights dimensions of Chua's handling of the SARS outbreak.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman