We are gravely concerned with the statement by Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob [on 14 January] that Malaysian Armed Forces personnel now have the power to detain and take action against citizens alleged to have breached the movement control order.
We note that even though the minister in his statement stated that such powers were given by way of an “emergency ordinance”, he failed to clarify whether any ordinance has already been promulgated nor has he disclosed details of any such an ordinance.
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.
The senior minister has failed to justify why there is a need to grant the military powers to arrest movement control offender offenders. The armed forces are trained for combat in armed conflict against foreign invaders and are ill-equipped to deal with civilian arrest.
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 used to assist police officers in ensuring movement control order compliance, as they have done throughout the movement control order period last year.
There is legitimate concern that allowing military personnel to arrest civilians may lead to excessive use of force or other abuses that infringe on the civil liberties of the public.
Snippets of this possibility could be gleaned from a viral video in December that depicted army personnel abusing migrant workers, supposedly for breaching a quarantine order.
Whilst we do not suggest that all military personnel have conducted themselves in such a manner, the concerns raised by such incidents are very real.
We therefore urge the government to reconsider giving powers of arrest to the armed forces. Members of the public should not be treated as enemies and be dealt with by military personnel.
Movement control order offenders should be treated in accordance with the law by police personnel who are trained to do so, and their rights should be protected at all times.
Zaid Malek is coordinator of Lawyers for Liberty