Coronavirus: Malaysian Bar questions unequal treatment for those who flout movement control rules

The movement control order has largely confined people in Malaysia to their homes.
The movement control order has largely confined people in Malaysia to their homes.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR - The Malaysian Bar has expressed its concern that those who flout the rules of the country's partial shutdown have been handed excessive sentences or treated unfairly.

In a statement issued on Tuesday (April 28), the Bar, which regulates the legal profession, said it was "disturbed by accounts of excessive sentences and cases of disparity in sentencing between ordinary people and those with influence, in relation to persons who have violated the MCO".

The MCO refers to Malaysia's movement control order to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The order has shut schools and non-essential businesses, and largely confined residents to their homes since March 18.

"We acknowledge that the range of sentences handed down may well be within the ambit of the law, but the power of the Court to hand down sentences must be exercised judiciously in order to avoid any travesty of justice," its president Salim Bashir said in the statement.

The Bar's statement comes amid public backlash after two politicians were let off on Tuesday with a fine of RM1,000 (S$325) each for taking part in a social gathering during the shutdown.

Another 13 people received the same fine for being at the same gathering in violation of the MCO.

The two politicians, Deputy Health Minister Noor Azmi Ghazali and Perak executive council member Razman Zakaria, were even seen leaving court in the same car, another offence under the MCO, which stipulates that only one person is allowed in a car.

In contrast, a single mother had on April 21 been sentenced to 30 days jail for breaching the MCO. She managed, on appeal, to get her sentence reduced to a RM1,000 fine on Wednesday, after spending eight days in prison.

Her lawyer Datuk Rajpal Singh said the sentence was manifestly excessive. "Why is there an inconsistency?" he asked.

As of Wednesday, over 21,000 people in the country have been arrested for breaching the MCO, with 947 charged in court.