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Bar cautions of consequence of jailing more MCO violators

KUALA LUMPUR (April 17): Malaysian Bar president Salim Bashir today cautions that the government's move to arrest and charge Movement Control Order (MCO) violators to seek heavier sentences would lead to more people being incarcerated.

In a statement issued last night, Salim said if more people are sent to prison, it is not a good thing in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Places of detention are generally acknowledged by health authorities as being clusters for the spread of the virus. We need to be aware that elsewhere in the world, governments and prison authorities are releasing some prisoners in order to lessen overcrowding in prisons, and reduce the spread of Covid-19.

“It will be ironic if policies during the period of the MCO result in a greater number of Covid-19 cases. This will unnecessarily prolong the duration of the lockdown and be counterproductive,” Salim warned.

It was reported that Senior Minister Datuk Ismail Sabri Yaakob. who is also Defence Minister, had on Tuesday, during the third extension of the MCO, said offenders will now be arrested instead of being issued a compound notice because there is a section of Malaysians who were still not adhering to the order.

"The third phase of the MCO will be on Wednesday (April 15). I believe the public wants the police to be stricter in enforcing it. We see that some do not seem to fear the rules we have now. Maybe RM1,000 is not high enough to scare potential MCO violators.

"So, from tomorrow (Wednesday, April 15), police will arrest those who violate the MCO and charge them in court instead of issuing compound notices,” the senior minister was quoted to have said.

Salim acknowledged that while citizens and residents in Malaysia must comply with MCO regulations, law enforcement authorities must be aware and cognisant of, and acknowledge the right to movement for essential reasons, which is still recognised in the MCO.

“Many people who hitherto existed in the shadow of society, still need to find food for their families. Notwithstanding the excellent work being undertaken by several non-governmental organisations in making deliveries, more and more marginalised communities are facing increased challenges in respect of the lack of food and other everyday provisions.,” he said.

Strike a balance

The government, he added, must ensure that persons detained are not exposed to a heightened risk of Covid-19 infection.

“Enforcement authorities must always adhere to strict measures to avoid any possible breach of safety and health risk to detainees. Even as there is a need for the public to strictly observe and respect the MCO directive, the government must strike a balance in dealing with breaches of the MCO.

“Excessive punishments like imprisonment or imposing the maximum compound payable will result in injustices, especially when people have lost their jobs and have no income. Extenuating circumstances of an offence is a strong mitigating factor in determining a sentence,” he reminded.
Salim also cautioned that the enforcement authorities must ensure that a person arrested has access to legal representation.

“The constitutional and legal rights of an arrested person or an accused cannot be suspended, sidestepped, or superseded,” he added.

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