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Criminal action must be taken against any army or enforcement personnel who assaults migrant workers

File photo: Hasnoor Hussain/Al Jazeera

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Lawyers for Liberty view with grave concern the remark made by Armed Forced Chief General Affendi Buang that the army personnel caught assaulting migrant workers on video has only “acted a little beyond bounds”.

It is regrettable that the top brass of the armed forces has chosen to trivialise alleged acts of assault by its own personnel. Assault is not merely a disciplinary issue; it is a crime under the law, and should have been condemned in an unqualified manner. Criminal probes must be instituted against the said personnel.

The allegations of abuse of power and mistreatment of migrant workers by the enforcement authorities during the movement control order is not new; similar concerns have time and again been consistently raised by a number of civil society rganisations and even the international media. The videos that are currently making the rounds serve as damning evidence to prove that the allegations are not baseless.

Though Chief General Affendi Buang maintains this is an isolated case, the fact remains that this matter was only taken seriously after videos of the incident surfaced online. Without the videos, the allegation surely would have been dismissed without a second thought, and swift action may have been taken against those who brought the abuse to light for “damaging the image of the country and the enforcement authorities”. The persecution earlier this year of the South China Morning Post journalist and the whistleblower who spoke to them is ample evidence of this.

The culture of impunity amongst enforcement authorities is a serious problem that has become more apparent during the imposition of the movement control order; the unclear standard operating procedures has led to abuse of power by the enforcement authorities who have arbitrarily and inconsistently enforced the rules and regulations imposed during the movement control order. The unlawful assault and mistreatment of migrant workers is yet another example of this abuse.

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We are compelled to remind the authorities as well as certain sectors of the public that the real culprit for the increase of Covid infections are certain large money-making corporations that have failed to comply with the law at the expense of migrants workers’ health and wellbeing. Make no mistake, the migrant workers are the victims in this situation and must not be vilified.

The authorities should be aware that under no circumstances can they inflict any physical harm to anyone even if they are in breach of any movement control order regulations. Their duty is and has always been to safeguard the people, including migrants and refugees, from the further spread of Covid, and they must execute their duties within the confines of the law.

Hence, we urge the authorities as well as the government to take a strong stance against these unlawful acts committed against migrants workers. We further urge the police to open criminal investigations on the assault committed by the army personnel as they should be duly punished for their crimes if proven after due process.

Zaid Malek is coordinator of Lawyers for Liberty

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