KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian lawyers and an international rights group have voiced concern over what they say is excessive sentencing of violators of the country’s coronavirus lockdown.
Malaysia, which has confirmed 5,851 cases and 100 deaths from COVID-19, has arrested more than 21,000 people since a partial lockdown began March 8. Violators face a fine or a jail term of up to six months.
It’s not clear how many people have been imprisoned, but a number have been handed jail sentences ranging from a few days to several months.
The Bar Council, which represents some 15,000 lawyers, urged courts to temper justice with compassion because the offenses don’t involve violent crime.
Bar president Salim Bashir said in a statement that incarcerating violators raises the risk of virus transmissions in courts and already crowded prisons.
While flouting the lockdown must not be taken lightly, Bashir said, “Sending violators to jail is a cure that is worse than the disease.”
The Bar Council also said it was disturbed over cases of disparity in sentencing between ordinary people and those with influence.
Malaysia’s deputy health minister on Tuesday was let off with a 1,000 ringgit ($229) fine for having a lunch gathering at a religious school.
In contrast, a university student was sentenced to seven days in jail and a 1,000 ringgit fine for leaving her house to take a cake to her boyfriend.
She faces an additional two months in jail if she fails to pay the fine.
Human Rights Watch said Malaysia should stop jailing violators because it’s counterproductive to reducing the virus spread.
It also said the temporary detention facilities being used for lockdown violators should instead be used to reduce overcrowding in Malaysia’s existing prisons.
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