Rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) voiced concern today over the announcement that armed forces personnel would be empowered to arrest and take action against those accused of breaching the government’s movement restrictions, saying this could lead to abuses which infringe the civil liberties of the people.
LFL coordinator Zaid Malek said legitimate concern exists that allowing military personnel to arrest civilians could lead to excessive use of force, among others.
“The armed forces are trained for combat in armed conflict against foreign invaders and are ill-equipped to deal with civilian arrests,” he 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 (movement control order) compliance, as they have done throughout the MCO period last year.”
The announcement on armed forces personnel was made by Senior Minister for Security Ismail Sabri Yaakob in his daily update on the Covid-19 situation yesterday.
In a statement, Zaid noted Ismail’s assurance that such powers are given by way of an “emergency ordinance” but said the minister had failed to provide details on the ordinance or clarify whether such an ordinance had already been promulgated.
“Be that as it may, the government must be reminded that Article 150 (2B) of the Federal Constitution has limited the enactment of any ordinance to only when there exists a circumstance that necessitates its immediate creation,” he added.
He referred to a video which went viral in December of army personnel appearing to abuse migrant workers for breaching a quarantine order.
“While 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.
“Members of the public should not be treated as enemies and be dealt with by military personnel. MCO offenders should be treated in accordance with law by police personnel who are trained to do so, and their rights protected at all times.”