Suhakam Sarawak fears jailing repeat SOP offenders will compound spread of Covid-19 virus


Dato Dr Madeline Berma

KUCHING: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) Sarawak is not in favour of imposing heavier fines and jail time for repeat offenders of the standard operating procedures (SOP) to break the chain of Covid-19 infections.

Suhakam Sarawak Commissioner Dato Dr Madeline Berma proposed that the government should instead impose ‘Stay At Home Order’ or ‘Community Service Order’ on repeat SOP violators or order them to perform community services.

“SOP is absolutely a critical measure to curb the spread of Covid-19, but imposing heavy fines and jail sentences tends to criminalise.

“Imposing heavy fines and jail terms will run the risk of disproportionately impacting vulnerable groups particularly the poor and the minorities, at a time when many are out of jobs or at a loss of income.

“The Emergency Ordinance and MCO (Movement Control Order) are to contain the spread of Covid-19, but they have to be fair,” she said when contacted by The Borneo Post here yesterday.

Madeline pointed out that prisons in the country are overcrowded by 40 per cent maximum capacity, and the overcrowding of detainees is one of the major factors contributing to the rapid spread of Covid-19 in prisons.

She feared that by jailing repeat SOP offenders, the number of inmates in prisons would increase.

“This will affect the prisoners, prison staff and families. Also, arresting and jailing the offenders only put them at risk of being exposed to Covid-19.”

Madeline pointed out that the Prisons Department is in the process of granting release on licence (ROL) for minor offenders, who were sentenced to less than one year’s imprisonment and those having less than three months left to serve.

As such, she said the proposal to impose jail time on repeat SOP violators would affect the ROL efforts implemented by the Prisons Department.

She said she could understand why the authorities had tightened lockdown in rural areas to help curb the spread of the virus.

“Health is the primary concern for the government. The decision to tighten lockdown in rural areas will have a long-term impact on rural communites in Sarawak.

“This is because there is a higher risk for severe Covid-19 complications due to the higher number of older people in rural areas as compared to urban areas,” she added.

Madeline also pointed out that the rural communities had limited access to quality healthcare facilities.

More importantly, she said rural hospitals in the state had a limited number of medical personnel and facilities such as hospital beds, intensive care unit (ICU) beds, ventilators.

“Limited healthcare personnel and facilities will affect our rural hospital’s ability to treat patients with Covid-19,” she added.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said in a national address that the government would impose higher fines on repeat offenders and even jail time for those found flouting the SOP.

He added that disciplinary action could be taken against public servants found breaching the SOP including the work from home policy.

According to the prime minister, the emergency management technical committee has studied the provisions under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342) that need to be amended to enforce tougher action.