‘Use of army not violating civil rights’

On guard: Police and military personnel checking motorists along Jalan Bukit Bintang during the MCO. — Bernama

KOTA KINABALU: The use of the military during the Emergency is not a violation of civil liberties, says Sabah Law Society president Roger Chin.

“I don’t think there is any violation, provided the military is not exceeding the powers of the police under the various statutes, including the Criminal Procedure Code.”

“If the military treats the arrest like a combat, then yes, it will violate civil liberties. But I do not think the minister is suggesting anything like that, ” he said when asked to comment on concerns raised over the army being allowed to arrest civilians who flout the movement control order.

On Thursday, Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said under the Emergency, armed forces personnel would have the power to detain citizens who breached the MCO.

In a statement yesterday, Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) said allowing military personnel to arrest civilians might lead to excessive use of force or other infringements of civil liberties.

“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 Ordinance, ” said LFL coordinator Zaid Malek.

“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.”

Zaid said the Senior Minister failed to justify why there was a need to grant military powers to arrest MCO offenders.

However, Chin said the only concern was that the military is not well trained to deal with civilians, and possibly might use excessive force, among others.

“But to raise this objection is being presumptuous, and having low expectation of the military’s professionalism, ” he added.

Chin personally felt that there was not much grounds to object to the involvement of the military.

“What can be done is for the military to be reminded to follow the law and be sensitive when dealing with civilians, ” he said, pointing out that under the just gazetted Emergency Ordinance, there were additional powers for the Armed Forces.

Chin quoted Section 7(1) of the Ordinance that states that “as long as the Emergency is in force, the armed forces, upon direction by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or any person authorised by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, shall have all the powers of a police officer of whatever rank as provided for under the Criminal Procedure Code [Act 593] and such powers shall be in addition to the powers under the Armed Forces Act 1972 [Act 77] and not in derogation thereof”.

Zaid maintained that the power to detain civilians should only be exercised by police officers, who have been trained to deal with such arrests, adding that army personnel should only be utilised to assist police officers in ensuring MCO compliance as they did throughout the MCO period last year.

He said there was legitimate concern that allowing military personnel to arrest civilians might lead to excessive use of force or other forms of abuse.

“Snippets of this possibility could be gleaned from the viral video last December that depicted army personnel abusing migrant workers, supposedly for breaching a quarantine order.

“While we do not suggest that all military personnel have conducted themselves in such a manner, the concerns raised by such incidents are very real, ” he said, urging the government to reconsider giving powers of arrest to the armed forces.

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