April 30, 2020.
Recollections & Reflections
IT hasn’t been an easy six weeks for most Malaysians since the government imposed the movement control order on March 18 as part of the fight against the Covid-19 virus and by most accounts our MCO, although not called a lockdown as is the case everywhere else in the world, must rank as one of the strictest. Tough because in working out or jogging alone in the park a person is flouting the law. In other countries, the main no-go is about congregating or forming a crowd of more than a few persons.
Not easy because the MCO means that you can never lead the normal life that involves interactions with friends or colleagues or that gives you the freedom to go anywhere you fancy at any time that suits you. The MCO basically means that for a family it’s all about being cooped up within the confines of your abode for the most part of the day, of having to deal with everyone in the household 24/7. While you do want to be with your spouse or children as much as possible, being forced to live with them all day long, day after day, week after week is a completely different proposition than what you are used to normally.
It is thus not surprising that many Malaysians and others residing in the country have not been able to stay indoors for long periods as required by the MCO, despite the obvious risks of being infected by the virus while in a crowd outside your home. It must be said though that being at home doesn’t guarantee you will be free of the virus although the risks are less. Health experts too agree that having to stay indoors within a small area and breathing the same circulated air is not good for your physical and mental health, which is why most countries that impose the lockdown still allow people to go out for an exercise so long as distancing is practised.
Our MCO must be the toughest in the world; a whopping 21,105 offenders hauled up so far
Press reports indicate that as of last Friday a total of 21,106 people had been arrested for various offences under the MCO. Many of those arrested earlier were given jail terms ranging from two weeks to three months. The situation only turned for the better from the second week of April after Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat and the Prisons Department expressed concern over what might happen to the offenders sent to jail due to the less than favourable conditions in prison or for that matter in the police lock-ups when an offender was placed under remand. Tengku Maimun asked that judges use their discretion wisely but to be able to exercise discretion you also need to be able to think wisely.
But that was after two simple-minded villagers from Sungai Siput in Perak were caught for wanting to go angling for fish in a pond.
Chin Chee Wei and Chong Poh Wah went out on a motorcycle to try their luck because they said they had no work due to the MCO and thus no income. But the family still had to eat and they went angling simply to put food on the table for their families. Chin and Chong couldn’t even afford a lawyer and were represented by P. Balakrishna Balaravi from the National Legal Aid Foundation. Magistrate Norhabsarina Ayob was not moved and sent them to three months jail. Balakrishna appealed and five days later Judicial Commissioner K. Muniandy revoked the jail term to change the penalty to four hours of community service daily for three months to start after the MCO is lifted.
Since there was no mention of bail from the original case at the magistrate’s court, it can be safely assumed that both men did spend time in jail.
Handcuffs for everyone but not for two politicians
Another case where justice has been served and compassion shown affects that of single mother B. Lisa Christina who spent eight days in jail before the jail term was reviewed and commuted to a fine of RM1,000.
There are a few issues that have caught the attention of the public, civil society groups and the Malaysian Bar, with the later issuing a few statements asking for the courts to tamper justice with compassion and to give due consideration to all mitigating factors that give rise to the offence.
According to Bar president Salim Bashir, it is justice that must be pursued, not just punishment. Another issue of concern is the disparity in sentencing.
Apart from the instances highlighted above, there was the recent case of a university student who was fined RM800 for driving to send a birthday cake to her boyfriend. You didn’t think that being in a car alone would have caused her to infect anyone but herself.
What surprisingly the Bar didn’t mention anything about are the handcuffs and chains and in a few instances, how the offenders were taken to court in those bright orange lock-up garb. Some of the offenders did ram into roadblocks and committed other stunts to escape the law but almost all such cases involved blokes with criminal records. Handcuff them by all means but ordinary Malaysians like Chin, Chong and Christina?
One mantra we hear often from people in authority, including the police, is that everyone is equal before the law. Right. I wish they could convince me.
If that is indeed the case, why were there no cuffs on the wrists of Deputy Health Minister Dr. Noor Azmi Ghazali and Perak state executive councilor Razman Zakaria when they were taken to the Grik magistrate’s court yesterday also for flouting conditions under the MCO?