The Centre of Independent Journalism (CIJ) calls on the government to immediately withdraw all movement control order-related charges and halt all future arrests.
Despite the pledge by Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob that there will be no crowded lock-ups and health protocols would be observed, the Centre for Independent Journalism continues to see an increase in the number of arrests of persons who allegedly violate the movement control order.
These arrests, numbering more than 6,000 according to Ismail Sabri, place the individuals remanded at heightened risk – as recently admitted by the Prisons Department itself – as they may not be able to practise the necessary social distancing during their confinement.
Furthermore, we have also noted alleged instances of police abuse during the movement control order. Unchecked police powers are likely to cause unnecessary panic and fear of public authorities.
Besides that, the arrests are counterproductive and a waste of public resources; education is key in addressing misinformation surrounding Covid-19, not prosecution through arrests and online crackdowns.
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The government is reminded to comply with human rights norms and standards and ensure such arrests are not arbitrary in nature, are reviewed constantly and are proportionate to the overarching objective of stalling the the spread of coronavirus in the country.
We note and welcome Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat’s call for lower court judges to consider the risk of the coronavirus spreading in prisons when imposing jail sentences on those who defy the movement control order.
We also laud Prisons Department director general Zulkifli Omar for proposing that these judges use existing laws to order movement control order offenders to do compulsory community work instead of imposing jail time – to reduce congestion in jails – due to the department’s inability to practise social distancing in jails.
These announcements reinforce the concerns raised by CIJ and other civil society organisations on the need for all law enforcement authorities to adopt clear, consistent and transparent protocols on its powers and actions during this pandemic.
The law enforcement authorities must act with due diligence and not spiral into the realm of unchecked impunity.
6 April 2020
Wathshlah G Naidu is executive director of the Centre for Independent Journalism