The Malaysian Armed Forces have no authority to detain and take action against those accused of violating the movement control order (MCO), a source in the defence ministry says.
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, the source added that Senior Minister for Security Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s statement on the matter yesterday had been in reference to arrests made in the context of Op Benteng, an inter-agency effort to stop cross-border crime and the spread of Covid-19.
It said the authority to arrest members of the public who flout the MCO remains in the sole jurisdiction of the police.
“As of now, what we have been told is that the minister’s statement referred to arrests made under Op Benteng, not the MCO directive,” the source said on condition of anonymity.
“The armed forces are still helping the police to monitor and at roadblocks.”
Earlier this week, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong consented to the declaration of an emergency to curb the spread of Covid-19 which has so far infected nearly 150,000 and claimed over 500 lives.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin however assured that a civilian government would remain and that daily activities would not disrupted. He also said the authorities could enact tough laws during the period running up to Aug 1, with the aim of battling the impact of the pandemic.
Ismail was reported as saying yesterday that the jurisdictions of the police and armed forces under the emergency declaration were the same, which would help streamline the management of the Covid-19 situation.
Rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) however said this could lead to excessive use of force and abuses which infringe the civil liberties of the people.
“The armed forces are trained for combat in armed conflict against foreign invaders and are ill-equipped to deal with civilian arrests,” LFL director Zaid Malek said.
“The powers to detain civilians should only be exercised by police officers, who have been trained to deal with such arrests. Army personnel must only be utilised to assist police officers in ensuring MCO compliance, as they have done throughout the MCO period last year.”