LFL expresses concern over additional powers given to Armed Forces during emergency

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Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) has expressed concern over the government’s decision to give the armed forces the power to detain and take action against those found violating the movement control order (MCO).

In a statement, LFL coordinator Zaid Malek urged Putrajaya to reconsider this move, saying there is valid concern that this could lead to excessive force or other abuses that would infringe on civil liberties.

He also reminded Putrajaya that Article 150 (2B) of the federal constitution limits the enactment of any ordinance to only when there exists a circumstance that necessitates its immediate creation.

“The senior minister has failed to justify as to why there is a need to grant the military powers to arrest MCO offenders.

“The armed forces are trained for combat in armed conflict against foreign invaders and are ill-equipped to deal with civilian arrest.

“The powers to detain civilians should only be exercised by police officers, who have been trained to deal with such arrests.”

Army personnel should only be utilised to assist police officers to ensure MCO compliance, as they did throughout the MCO last year, said LFL.

Zaid said there was legitimate concern that allowing military personnel to arrest civilians may lead to excessive use of force or other abuses that infringe the civil liberties of the public.

“Snippets of this possibility could be gleaned from the viral video in December of last year that depicted Army personnel abusing migrant workers, supposedly for breaching a quarantine order.

“Whilst we do not suggest that all military personnel have conducted themselves in such a manner, the concerns raised by such incidents are very real,” he said, urging the government to reconsider giving powers of arrest to the armed forces.

He said members of the public should not be treated as enemies and be dealt with by military personnel, adding that MCO offenders should be treated in accordance with law by police personnel who are trained to do so.

Yesterday, senior minister for security Ismail Sabri Yaakob said armed forces personnel now have the power to detain and take action against those found violating the MCO.

He said that the Emergency Ordinance provides similar authority to the police and military, which would help efforts to manage the Covid-19 crisis better.

Details of the Emergency (Essential Powers) Ordinance 2021 which is to be applied retroactively from Jan 11, 2021 were made public by the Attorney-General’s Chambers and provides the executive with sweeping powers as indicated by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in his announcement on Jan 12.

The Ordinance covers a range of governance issues including the suspension of parliamentary and state elections, the power of the executive to make regulations, the establishment of an independent special committee, the provision for the temporary seizure of assets and resources, additional powers to the armed forces and special powers to directions for treatment, immunisation, isolation, observation or surveillance (in relation to Covid-19).

Among the questions posed by the document which was promulgated by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah on Jan 14, is that it does not appear to have a date of termination and does not state a timeframe for when the powers will cease to apply.

For so long as the emergency is in force, the Armed Forces, upon direction by the Agong or any person authorised by the Agong, shall have all the powers of a police officer of whatever rank as provided for under the Criminal Procedure Code [Act 593] and such powers shall be in addition to the powers provided for under the Armed Forces Act 1972 [Act 77] and not in derogation thereof.

Related report:

Jan 15, Opposition MPs: Rescind emergency, let Parliament convene


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