In this time of crises, democracy, accountability and compassion must prevail

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Rumblings of discontent continue to be heard from various groups over the declaration of a state of emergency in mid-January as a means of combating Covid-19.

With Parliament suspended until August, the country is now being governed unaccountably. Those who have tried to question the reasons for the declaration of emergency have faced cries of treason, sedition and police reports.

Yet it was ironic that the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia was seeking feedback on the declaration of Emergency from the public through the Telegram channel Saluran Maklumat Darurat or via email to maklumbalasdarurat@kkmm.gov.my.

Aliran has joined others in seeking legal routes to bring back some semblance of accountability and democracy.

Some have written articles pointing out the right to raise questions about the declaration of emergency or highlighting existing laws that could be used to combat Covid without the need for a state of emergency.

As the days tick by under the emergency, questions have been raised about the bipartisan emergency committee (as in where is it and what is it doing?) that was supposed to advise the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

In the meantime, people are suffering. It was thus refreshing to see #KitaMintaLima, a social media campaign which apparently is a compilation of netizens’ comments taken from an Istana Negara Facebook post. It puts across five simple points:

  1. Perintah kawalan yang bersasar dan efektif (Targeted and effective movement control orders)
  2. Sokong penuh kepada Frontliners dengan menyalurkan segala sumber bagi melawan Covid-19 (Full support for frontline personnel by channelling all resources to fight Covid)
  3. Moratorium bank automatik dan bantuan tunai kepada rakyat sepanjang PKP (An automatic bank loan moratorium and cash aid for the people throughout the movement control order)
  4. Penguatkuasaan SOP MKN secara adil dan saksama (Fair and equitable enforcement of the National Security Council’s standard operating procedures)
  5. Peranti dan data internet kepada semua pelajar dengan segera (Immediate distribution of devices and internet data to all students)
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Atau Tukar Kerajaan (or change the government)

Each of these requests has struck a chord with many people.

Many of the dos and don’ts for the ongoing partial lockdown from the National Security Council have either sometimes not made sense or changed with a frequency that has left many people and businesses confused, including the police and other enforcers.

With this level of uncertainty over restrictions, the push for stricter penalties for violating Covid measures is punitive. More fines or higher fines are not an indication of a drop in Covid transmission.

The public perception is that double standards are at play. If leaders themselves are not abiding by the restrictions, then why should the ordinary person on the street be penalised for flouting them? It points very much to the type of leadership presently on display.

Over the last year, we have all seen how much we rely on our public health system. If it was stretched before, it is now almost at breaking point. The pandemic has taught us many things, but the crucial lesson is this: we must invest adequate resources to build the public healthcare system.  

And while hospitals (including medical staff) are struggling to cope with the load of Covid patients, spare a thought for all the non-Covid patients. Many of them are unable to get prompt access to support and treatment, as hospitals reschedule operations and assign wards to Covid patients.

As the Covid struggle continues and as people wait for vaccines, we must not lose sight of other key issues.

The fight against systemic corruption is an uphill struggle, and people must speak out and ask for transparency and accountability in a variety of spaces and forums, including in the judiciary. We must not lose hope but must instead keep pushing for reform.

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The issue of safety in police stations must again be raised. Muhammad Afis Ahmad, 31, died in the Yan Police headquarters in Kedah due to blunt force trauma to his head in late January. Then there was an allegation of rape of a teenager while in custody at the Miri Police station.

Why does it continue to be unsafe in police stations when these should be the safest places? What are the measures in place to ensure that those in custody are not harmed or killed? Why are these not implemented and importantly, how will the police be accountable for what takes place in police cells?

Will the recently passed Independent Police Conduct Commission be able to address this? Will the Ministry of Home Affairs step forward and take responsibility?

The pandemic is a time of crisis. It is often said that a crisis brings out the best and the worst in us. We have seen many people helping others in dire straits during the pandemic – from those working on the front lines and going the extra mile, to those helping with food aid and to others donating generously to stem the suffering of people around them.

It is heartwarming to see such compassion in others, irrespective of ethnicity or religious leanings, especially in our ethnically fractured society. Shared compassion brings people together, and we should all be doing more of this in whatever way we can.

And yet, there are those who, even in a time of crisis, seem unable to show compassion. We see the bullying of migrants including migrant workers, domestic workers, refugees, asylum seekers, foreign spouses and others in our country.

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There is deep concern over 756 children being held in immigration detention centres nationwide, just over half of them held without their parents or guardians.

How is the detention of these children in sync with our government’s commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the best interests of the child? What untold trauma are these children experiencing? And why has the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) been unable to gain access to these immigration detention centres since August 2019?

The deputy minister (religious affairs) in the Prime Minister’s Department then brought up the issue of imposing heavier sentences on the LGBT community under the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 or Act 355. His call for moral policing and spying by the public on this already vulnerable community was shocking.

This stands in stark contradiction to the PM’s keynote address on hate speech at the first Asean digital ministers’ meeting in which he referred to hate speech including “harassment and threats against a person or persons based on their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability or nationality”.

Civil society groups have opposed the call from the deputy minister and pointed out the big disconnect.

The pandemic is upon us, and it is wreaking havoc in millions of lives and economies around the world. While it is a struggle to manage both the health and the economy, leaders must not use the pandemic as a shield to become unaccountable and to do as they please or ignore rights violations. We have to guard against this at all times.

As we start the Year of the Ox, we wish all our readers Happy Chinese New Year. Stay healthy and positive and look after each other.

Prema Devaraj
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
11 February 2021
Thanks for dropping by! The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Hakimi Abdul Jabar
24 Feb 2021 4.57pm

Malaysia had inherited and derived its parliamentary democracy from the Westminster model as enshrined in its constitution. Responsible government is a system of government that embodies the principle of parliamentary accountability which is the foundation of the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy. With parliament’s suspension, there is no parliamentary accountability nor responsible government in Malaysia. There is no responsibility & accountability to a democratically elected legislature. Democracy has been usurped!

Hakimi Abdul Jabar
20 Feb 2021 7.58pm

My Observation As A Secularist Democrat Human Rights Defender :
The Complete Erosion & Usurpation of Malaysia’s Functioning Democracy & Citizens Participation in Governance Via Representative Democracy As A Direct Result of the Suspension of Parliament.

The Inherent Correlation between Democracy, Human Rights & the Rule of Law Has Been Clearly Enunciated by the UN & OHCHR.

https://www.ohchr.org/en/Issues/RuleOfLaw/Pages/Democracy.aspx

Hakimi Abdul Jabar
20 Feb 2021 7.56pm

When Absolutism & Dictatorship Usurp a Functioning Democracy & Citizens Participation in Governance Duly Protected by Parliament by the Suspension of Parliament in an Emergency. An Entrenched System of Checks & Balances No Longer Exist & Democracy & Parliament Has Been Usurped :

https://charleshector.blogspot.com/2021/02/is-malaysia-still-working-democracy.html?

loyal malaysian
loyal malaysian
14 Feb 2021 3.57am

“We must not lose hope but must instead keep pushing for reform.” – I hear you, Prema, and I will try to keep the faith.

Yes, the question has been asked and it must continued to be asked: Why is our govt. holding children in immigration detention centers in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child? Why is the UNHCR denied access to these centers since Aug.2019?

Sad, to say for our nation, Prema, all your 3 criteria – democracy, accountability and compassion- are lacking in this time of crisis.