Dear Dato’ Seri Hamzah Zainudin,
I am writing to oppose the arrest, detention, and charges faced by five protestors – M. Sarasvathy, L. Danaletchumy V. Santhiran, P. Jothi, and C Subramaniam Raja – who participated in a peaceful protest on 2 June 2020 outside Raja Permaisuri Bainun Hospital in Ipoh. Some of the protestors are hospital workers. The protest denounced the alleged mistreatment of cleaners in the hospital including: inadequate supply of protective equipment for COVID-19, intimidation of workers active in the union, the cancellation of a Collective Agreement accepted by the previous sub-contractor, and the lack of annual increase in wages and paid holidays or sick leave – by a company sub-contracted for hospital cleaning services. The company denies these allegations.
The five protestors were arrested, remanded overnight, and chained in court, which is concerning as it is a form of inhuman or degrading treatment that may amount to torture. They face a fine of up to RM 1,000 (USD 234) each or up to six months’ imprisonment or both, for allegedly violating the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases (Measures within the Infected Local Areas) Regulations 2020 that outlaws mass gatherings. Their next court appearance is 9 July 2020. Amnesty International calls on the government not to imprison people for breaching public health restrictions, which is a disproportionate measure given the high transmission risks in places of detention. The charges also carry a fine that may disproportionately affect the group, especially as they were protesting poor wages by the company.
The COVID-19 crisis should not be used as a pretext to unnecessarily and disproportionately suppress rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Healthcare workers are the backbone of society especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, continuing to deliver services despite the risks. The government should protect the rights of hospital workers on the frontlines of the pandemic, instead of subjecting them to prosecution.
Therefore, I call on your office to:
- Drop all charges against the five members, as the charges are either contrary to international human rights law or carry penalties that will disproportionately affect this group;
- Ensure that all hospital workers are provided with adequate and quality personal protective equipment, information, training, and psychosocial support; and
- Investigate allegations against the company and ensure that all labour laws are respected and enforced.
Thank you for your kind attention,