Dear Tan Sri Dato' Sri Idrus Harun,
I am writing to call on you to drop the charges faced by five activists—M. Sarasvathy, L. Danaletchumy V. Santhiran, P. Jothi, and C. Subramaniam Raja—who participated in a peaceful picket on 2 June 2020 against alleged mistreatment of hospital cleaners by a sub-contractor. Their allegations included inadequate supply of PPE for COVID-19, intimidation of cleaners active in the union, the cancellation of a Collective Agreement accepted by the previous sub-contractor, lack of annual increase in wages, lack of increase in sick leave and annual leave according to seniority, and reduced number of paid public holidays. The company denies these allegations.
As you may be aware, the picket in question consisted of less than 20 people, and all participants practiced physical distancing, wore masks, and had their temperatures checked. Still, the activists were arrested and remanded overnight, and chained in court which is a form of inhuman or degrading treatment that may amount to torture. The activists also allege that they were mistreated during the arrest and in lockup, claiming they were verbally abused by police officers, forced to change their clothes with the room door open and were not given water for their personal medication.
Charged on 2 June 2020 with violating the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases (Measures within the Infected Local Areas) Regulations 2020, each activist now faces a fine of up to RM 1,000 (USD 234) or up to six months’ imprisonment or both. This fine is particularly disproportionate as they were protesting poor wages.
Pickets are an essential component of the rights to freedom of association and assembly as enshrined in international law; restrictions on these rights during health emergencies must be necessary and proportionate to the aims of addressing the emergency. The COVID-19 crisis should not be used as a pretext to unnecessarily and disproportionately suppress rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Those on the frontlines of the pandemic must not be punished for asking for better working conditions.
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;
- Investigate allegations against the company and ensure that all labour laws are respected and enforced, especially the inadequate supply of personal protective equipment for COVID-19 and the intimidation of workers active in the union.
Thank you for your kind attention.