Suhakam fears Covid-19 threat to those arrested under MCO

Scores of people have been arrested for defying the MCO, like these 70 at the Butterworth court last week. Suhakam has suggested that MCO offenders be given bail now and charged later.

PETALING JAYA: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) says it is concerned over the arrests and detention of alleged movement control order (MCO) offenders.

In a statement, the commission said as of yesterday, 4,180 people had been arrested and 1,449 charged with flouting the MCO, aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19.

“The inadequate social distancing and the poor safety measures in the process of arresting or detaining persons indicate that standard operating procedures (if there are any) have not been sufficiently communicated or understood by the officers implementing them.”

It said that existing rules require detainees to undergo a medical examination as soon as possible before being held in lock-ups but trained medical personnel are in reality unavailable at police stations.

“Based on observations during visits to police lock-ups, most are small, in poor condition, lack proper ventilation or natural light.”

Without proper preventive measures, the large number of alleged MCO offenders could face increased health risks in lock-ups, Suhakam said. Frontliners, including the policemen dealing with them, could also face these risks.

Suhakam said even the chief justice’s recent directive for remand proceedings to be conducted at police stations during the MCO period did not guarantee social distancing practices will be adhered to.

“Suhakam has similar concerns over conditions in prisons, which are generally crowded and which have exceeded their maximum capacity.

“If the authorities continue to arrest and charge more MCO offenders, it will further increase the number of prisoners housed in confined spaces, where conditions are prime for rapid spread of any infectious disease.”

The commission said it had proposed that the alleged MCO offenders, minors and fake news offenders be released on police bail and charged at a later date.

It said when an offender is unable to post bail, alternatives like bonds or non-cash bail, should be offered. Instead of jailing them, it suggested fines or community services.

Minors, women, persons with disabilities, older persons, those with chronic diseases and those under medical treatment should be prioritised for release.

Suhakam said 30% of prison inmates are remand prisoners and should be considered for release under a special administrative directive.

These should include those under remand for minor, non-violent offences or drug users, who pose zero risk to public safety.