No masks, so suspect brought to court with garbage bag over head

A picture going around on social media claiming to be taken at one of the courts in Penang.

GEORGE TOWN: A man suspected of involvement in drugs was brought to a Magistrate’s Court with a garbage bag over his head because he had come into contact with someone who had tested positive for Covid-19, a lawyer said in highlighting the lack of social distancing at the courts.

Other lawyers told of detainees, including those brought to court to be charged with violating the movement control order (MCO), being herded together and kept in close contact, defeating the efforts of the health ministry which is urging people to practise social distancing to stop the spread of Covid-19.

A lawyer, who declined to be named, said a handcuffed suspect, believed involved in drugs, was brought to the Magistrate’s Court here on March 25 with a garbage bag over his head.

“The escorting policeman told me that he had been in the same house as a Covid-19 positive family member who had gone to the Sri Petaling tabligh gathering earlier this month.

“He also told me they had no face masks at that time, so they had to resort to garbage bags,” the lawyer said.

The lawyer said the suspect was then made to stand at the door of the courtroom with the garbage bag removed, as the magistrate did not want him near the dock.

“I have never seen someone being charged by the entrance of the courtroom,” the lawyer added.

Another lawyer, V Parthipan, told FMT that over the past week, many suspects, including the ones to be charged with violating the MCO, were physically “too close for comfort”.

“We have seen many of those to be charged being brought in large numbers, say 40 to 50, all placed in one courtroom. There is barely any space between them.

“Very few were seen with face masks. They should be separated by a metre at least to respect the health authorities’ recommendations,” he said.

Lawyer Bala Mahesan said the treatment of detainees was now bordering on the inhumane, as he observed six men crammed into the dock with handcuffs on each other’s hands.

“And when their case is called, they would have to yank the others attached to them, that is how close they are,” he said.

In response to these concerns, the Malaysian Bar today called on the police to treat detainees with extra care in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Malaysian Bar president Salim Bashir said police officers escorting detainees must ensure there was a distance of at least 1m between detainees and that they had face masks on.

“By right, each detainee should be brought in one by one to maintain social distancing.

“Those infected have a real chance of spreading the virus, so bringing detainees in close contact would defeat the health authorities’ intention of curbing the spread of the virus,” he said

Another lawyer, who wanted to remain anonymous, said while the calls by his fellow bar members were fair, in reality, it would be a logistical nightmare for the police to practise social distancing.

He also said the Criminal Procedure Code currently allowed suspects to be chain-linked and brought to court.

“Unless the government drafts new regulations concerning the handling of detainees, the police are obliged to follow,” he said.

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