KUALA LUMPUR, June 3 — The government has been urged to consider alternative measures to imprisonment for all movement control order (MCO) or lockdown-related offences, so as to break the chain of Covid-19 infections and stave off another potential wave.
The All Party Parliamentary Group Malaysia for the Reform of Prisons and All Places of Detention (APPGM) said it is unacceptable for the government to still regard mass arrests and imprisonments as a viable option to control the pandemic.
“This is specially when more than 109 countries have followed the evidence and implemented decongestion measures and alternatives to incarceration. We remain behind despite making initial progress,” it said in a statement.
APPGM reminded the government of the tens of thousands of Covid-19 cases over the past several months, which are currently happening in prisons across the country and threatening the lives of people in prison, the personnel, their families, and the communities at large.
“Have we forgotten the past painful experience of the third wave in September 2020 culminating from prison clusters in Sabah?
“We know that adding new people to temporary prisons spreads our limited resources even more thinly and is against the expert advice and global evidence. Not only is it counterproductive to our overall effort to stem the transmission of the virus, but it can further endanger the public by creating new hotbeds of clusters. No walls can contain any virus,” it said.
The group also cautioned against locking up undocumented migrants, which it said is equally detrimental to public health as it brings about a climate of fear that would deter the most vulnerable from volunteering to be vaccinated.
“Without their participation in the national vaccine programme, achieving herd immunity will be elusive. Thus our country will continue to be very susceptible to new variants and mutations of the virus, while wasting billions of ringgit and human resources to curtail the spread.
“APPGM stands firmly with the science and evidence, and implores the government to learn from past experiences and not repeat the same mistakes. We can no longer afford the same mistakes,” it said.
APPGM added Putrajaya must reconsider its suggestion of detaining undocumented migrants and instead focus on efforts to reduce prison overcrowding.
“It is time for the government to seriously rethink its punitive approach and accept that Covid-19 requires a health approach. The only way to break the chain of infections is to be inclusive in our public health management.
“This includes vaccinating the most vulnerable groups in our societies such as people in prison, migrant workers, and undocumented individuals, while also remembering that ‘prison health is public health’ and we must not leave anyone behind,” it said.
The group's members include Dewan Rakyat Deputy Speaker and Pengerang MP Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, Batang Lupar MP Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim, Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar, Sepanggar MP Datuk Mohd Azis Jamman, Senator Liew Chin Tong, infectious diseases expert Prof Datuk Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman, as well as lawyer and activist Sangeet Kaur Deo.
Earlier on Saturday (May 29) Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin said the Immigration Department, the National Registration Department, and the police will soon conduct a joint operation to detain undocumented foreign workers during the ongoing two-week lockdown, which began on Tuesday and runs until June 14.
On Sunday (May 30) Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said he will discuss the proposal of mass detentions of immigrants with Hamzah, with a focus on the priority of public health.