Lawyers for Liberty: Wanton Arrests, Punishments Go Against MCO’s Original Aims

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The Attorney-General’s Chambers must consider if it is really in the public’s interest to bring prosecutions that result in jail sentences for minor breaches of the movement-control order (MCO), said Lawyers for Liberty today.

The group’s legal coordinator Zaid Malek said the wanton arrests, charging and sentencing of individuals without regard for the individual circumstances of their case will not secure the trust and cooperation of the public in enforcing the MCO.

“Resorting to these actions will only cause greater hardship, trauma and risk of infection, instead of achieving the MCO’s original aims,” he said in a statement.

Zaid said the 20,000 arrests for MCO violations in the country go against international guidance on detention during the Covid-19 pandemic.


He said the very purposes of the MCO were to implement social distancing and break the chain of infection.

“The authorities must not lose sight of the very purposes of the MCO when enforcing it over members of the public – most of whom have never before come into contact with the criminal justice system.

“Overcrowded prisons and detention facilities make it impossible for detainees and workers to practise social distancing, so incarcerating greater numbers of low-level offenders increases the risk of Covid-19 for the entire population.”

Zaid said LFL was particularly concerned by cases that do not involve wanton criminal behaviour or mass gatherings, but rather minor breaches of the MCO, which do not put the wider public at risk.

He referred to the case of single mother B Lisa Christina, who was jailed 30 days for violating the MCO, as a classic example.

She was arrested at a playground where she had stopped to speak to two others on her way home from a local shop.

The Shah Alam High Court yesterday reduced the sentence to a RM1,000 fine.

She had, by then, spent eight days in jail.

What is needed is consistency in enforcement, uniformity in treatment and a focus on the most aggravated breaches of the MCO, Zaid said.

“We wish to remind the authorities to exercise discretion when arresting and charging people, and that their powers of enforcement should be applied fairly and proportionately.

“There are situations in which advice or warnings would be more appropriate and still achieve the aim of public health protection,” he added. – TMI