The controversy over the government’s handling of Covid-19 infections among undocumented migrants continued yesterday, even as a senior minister defended it by saying those infected were brought to a “beautiful place” to be treated.

In other news, our daily Covid-19 infections have hit a new low; politicians from across the divide are in rare solidarity in condemning online harassment against two DAP Selangor reps; and, Pakatan is keeping mum about their choice of PM candidate, despite the fact everybody knows who it is.

Migrant migraine

The migrant debate rages on

The government has come under more fire for its handling of Covid-19 among undocumented migrants, especially following two days of triple-digit increases in infections, mostly among foreigners in detention for various immigration offences.
 
Human rights watchdog Lawyers for Liberty came out with a statement, saying undocumented workers are not acceptable casualties and, basically, that it’s absolute rubbish that the mass arrests of foreigners would protect Malaysians from the pandemic. It said any spread of the virus among detainees would be a burden to the healthcare system, and is a risk to Immigration Department officers, staff and frontliners who will have to deal with the infected. 
 
Another human rights organisation, the North-South Initiative, says raids conducted on undocumented foreigners also failed to nab the real culprits – the labour agents and employers. Some migrant workers, they say, become undocumented as they are abused and have nowhere to turn, and so run away from their employers to seek work elsewhere, thus becoming undocumented. 
 
Senior minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, however, has hit back at NGOs and other bodies critical of Malaysia’s handling of Covid-19 cases amongst foreigners. He says Malaysia treats its undocumented workers more humanely than many other countries and those who tested positive for the virus are sent to a “beautiful place” to be treated. 
 
Let’s put aside the debate about whether undocumented workers are treated fairly or humanely for a bit. Let’s also shelve the argument about whether the new temporary hospital at the Malaysia Agro Exposition Park Serdang is “a beautiful place” or not.
 
Instead let’s take a look at a point our beloved minister seems to be missing, one which NGOs and bodies like the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) have pointed out: Immigration raids for undocumented workers should be suspended for the time being.
 
Earlier this month, Suhakam and other NGOs had pointed out that such raids during the Covid-19 crisis would prove counter-productive as it wouldn’t encourage undocumented foreigners to come forward to be tested for the virus, even if they knew they were at high risk of being infected. They also pointed out these raids would add to already crowded conditions of detention centres, increasing the risks of any coronavirus infection spreading like wildfire. And all despite the Immigration Department saying last month it would suspend raids
 
Fast forward to last week, and we now find foreign detainees at the Bukit Jalil Immigration depot were testing positive for Covid-19, despite the fact these people were there from before the pandemic started. These people were kept isolated from those arrested after the MCO was put in place. So how did they get infected? 
 
Well, the cause of the infections is still being investigated but Health DG Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said two days ago there was a possibility there could have been a case of those picked up from EMCO areas somehow managing to make their way to interact with those kept in Block A (where the pre-MCO detainees are housed), or that the detention centre staff somehow brought the infection from one block to another. 
 
But it’s not just undocumented migrants that are at high risk. Documented workers are too, simply because of the deplorable living conditions they have to endure. It isn’t uncommon to see 20 or even more migrant workers crammed into a small flat unit. And mind you, we have some 2.2 million documented migrant workers here – or at least that was the count in 2017. How many illegals? Some say there are as many as 4 million (Side note: this piece articulates a lot of the issues around the quandry we now find ourselves in. Worth a read).
 
Such cramped living conditions alone, to say nothing about the hygiene levels, can cause Covid-19 (or any damned disease for that matter) to spread. And Noor Hisham is acutely aware of this. He wants such conditions to change to prevent the future spread of any virus.

The only problem is that the government doesn’t seem to be on the same page as Noor Hisham.

Amendments to the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990, which was supposed to have come into force from June 1, will now not be enforced until Aug 31. These amendments amendments cover better accommodation for foreign workers, but according to the Human Resource Ministry, the postponement is to give employers “the space to make the necessary arrangements”.

We’re not sure what kind of bullshit the ministry is trying to throw at us here. This law was amended last July and gazetted by September. And employers only now, less than a week before it comes into force, realise they’re not ready? 

And while our government and employers continue their wheeling and dealing, the ones that are running out of space and time are the migrants exposed to Covid-19.

Back where we belong?

After two days of increases in Covid-19 cases of more than 100, Malaysia is back in the double-digit realm as the outbreak at the three Immigration depots appear to have been contained, at least for now.
 
In fact, it was a record low (since the MCO began in March, at least) of 15 new cases yesterday, with no deaths. This brings the total number of cases here to 7,619, while the total death toll remains at 115. There were also 42 recoveries for a total of 6,083, representing a 79.8% recovery rate. 
 
In announcing this, however, Health DG Noor Hisham reminded Malaysians to continue to follow standard operating procedures (SOPs) during the CMCO so as to avoid a second tsunami of infections. He also reminded Malaysians that fever was not the only symptom of Covid-19 and to be aware of the other signs. 
 
On the new protocol to discharge patients after 14 days, as there was zero risk of them infecting others even if they were still positive for Covid-19, Noor Hisham says Malaysia was actually playing it safe as the World Health Organization actually recommends discharge after 10 days. Those who don’t want to go home after being discharged, however, can choose to be sent to a centre for those being treated for mild symptoms. 
 
Anyhoo, here are some other Covid-related stories which appeared yesterday:

  • The Health Ministry is working on a new set of guidelines for medical frontliners in the fight against Covid-19. 
     
  • The US has been hard hit by the coronavirus, with deaths topping 100,000. Malaysians there haven’t been spared either, with at least 10 of our nationals dying in New York alone. In all, 30 Malaysians have been infected in the Big Apple.
     
  • The government has allocated RM452.8 million for a recovery plan to help entrepreneurs affected by the virus and MCO/CMCO.
     
  • A Sarawak assistant minister has warned that inequality will grow if Internet infrastructure is not developed further as rural folk will not be able to get online, a crucial matter considering online learning has become part of the “new normal” with Covid-19. 
     
  • Stubborn Malaysians are apparently still trying to balik kampung during the present Hari Raya period, with 824 vehicles told to turn back at state borders nationwide yesterday. 
     
  • Fans of the Unduk Ngadau will also be disappointed to know that the Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association has banned all Kaamatan activities, including the beauty pageant, this year. 

The internet of garbage

It’s rare that politicians from both sides of the great political divide band together to support or speak out against something. But that’s exactly what happened yesterday and we gotta say, they have every reason to do so.
 
Politicians from across the divide came together to condemn death threats and sexual and racist harassment faced by two DAP Selangor state reps, saying “enough is enough”. These included Umno’s Azalina Othman Said, DAP sec-gen Lim Guan Eng, and Steven Sim and M. Manoharan, also of DAP, the last of whom called for the harassers to undergo psychiatric treatment. 
 
This followed news of a police report lodged by Bandar Utama assemblywoman Jamaliah Jamaluddin. The person who harassed Jamaliah also reportedly did the same to Kampung Tunku assemblywoman Lim Yi Wei. 
 
Both women, joined by Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah, urged the government to bring reforms to curb online harassment in order to protect the public. They say online harassment should not be seen as harmless as it is meant to bully and dehumanise the intended target. They are also calling for preemptive measures such as spreading awareness for Malaysians to engage in ethical and responsible use of the Internet. For their full message, you can go here
 
The trio highlighted the tragic case of the 20-year-old woman who hanged herself after being “trolled” online. She had been ridiculed for “dating” a foreigner after she posted a TikTok video of her and her colleague. That case has prompted several calls from NGOs for Malaysia to amend laws for cyberbullying to include harsher punishments, the latest being from three lawyers who say several such cases have led to suicide. 
 
Do we need harsher penalties? Most certainly. Take this article posted in the website of the Malaysian Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights in 2018. It says that over a five-year period there were 2,333 reported cases of cyber harassment in Malaysia. Take note, of course, of the word “reported”. Citing a survey, it said 50.4% of respondents said they were harassed online in some way or form, including sexual harassment, death or rape threats and stalking. 
 
And, as a whole, a third of Malaysian women say they have been sexually harassed at some point in time, whether online or otherwise, according to another poll.

Obviously, this isn’t a Malaysian problem, but a global one. There’s a lot of research and literature on the what, who, how and why of online harassment, but The Internet of Garbage by Sarah Jeong stands out as one of the best reads in this list (it’s certainly one of the best we’ve read). Since we’re all stuck at home anyway, we’d strongly recommend reading this book. It’s available for free (legal!) download here
 
But what, legally, is online harassment? We spoke to a few legal experts, who told us it can be seen to be a violation of two laws. Under Section 509 of the Penal Code, anyone using a word or gesture intending to “insult the modesty” of another person can be imprisoned up to five years, fined, or both. Under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act, that all-encompassing “improper use of network facilities or network service”, a person is liable to a fine of RM50,000, or jail of up to a year, or both. 

But how often do we hear of such prosecutions? Not often, our friendly neighbourhood legal brains say. So, yes – harsher penalties are needed, but perhaps not as much as the policing and enforcement of these laws to ensure better behaviour online. 

Open secret lah YB

Pakatan Harapan, apparently, has already agreed on a PM candidate should it wrest control of Putrajaya. Amanah communications director Khalid Samad says member parties of the coalition had come to the decision in discussions that went smoothly
 
While the Shah Alam MP kept the name of the candidate close to his chest, who’s going to argue that it isn’t Opposition leader and PKR president Anwar Ibrahim? It’s a no-brainer, of course, and it doesn’t help that Khalid said the discussions were smooth because there were no longer any quarters who held “differing interpretations” about the transition of power between Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar. Duhhh!
 
Meanwhile, Amanah cybertroopers are apparently working overtime in a bid to either rattle the Perikatan government or gain more support from the masses. They’ve launched a “psy-war” by letting it be “known” that Pakatan now has the majority support in Parliament and was only waiting for an audience with the King to be granted so they can prove to our beloved ruler they have signed statutory declarations enough to get PM Muhyiddin Yassin kicked out of office.

However, a legal expert on the role of the palace says the situation now is different from when Mahathir stepped down and created a vacuum of sorts, so the Agong will not entertain such a request for an audience. 

In other political news, PAS says it will step aside to allow Muafakat Nasional partner Umno to contest the Chini by-election, and has asked PKR not to make a go of it either.

But Khalid has other ideas, saying that Pakatan should contest on principle. It’s about defending the coalition’s principles and not allowing Umno an easy win, he says. 

Politicians and principles? Wow.

Bits and bobs

Here are a few other things which came out yesterday, which you should know about:

  • An issue with logging concessions is fast turning into a political game in Kedah. The new MB’s office says it’s not giving out new concessions despite the possibility of facing legal action from concessionaires and compensation payments of up to RM1.5 billion after concessions were cancelled. However, former PM Mahathir, who is Langkawi MP, is demanding proof of the amount, while sonny-boy Mukhriz says the MB is using the compensation claims to allow more logging
     
  • Unlike PAS, which called for a ban on the sale of alcohol to stop drink driving, Umno Youth has come up with a more tempered view, saying that there should be federal legislature to regulate the sale of alcoholic drinks. Opposition MPs, meanwhile, say the only way to stop drink driving was for current laws to be amended to include tougher penalties
     
  • The Tunku Abdul Rahman University College is back on the government books, with RM58 million allocated for the MCA-run institution. 
     
  • The Eastern Sabah Security Command has been put on high alert after intelligence was received of a possible kidnap-for-ransom plan by Abu Sayyaf Group militants. 

“Beneath the Wikipedias and Facebooks and YouTubes and other shiny repositories of information, community, and culture—the Internet is, and always has been, mostly garbage.”

- Sarah Jeong -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • The number of Covid-19 deaths in the US has now topped 100,000, with the global death toll surpassing the 350,000 mark. 
     
  • The European Union has proposed a massive €750 billion fund to tackle the economic crisis arising from the pandemic. Meanwhile, the UN says Covid-19 has created a ‘lockdown generation’, with more than 1 in 6 people under 29 not working now. 
     
  • There’s more good news for EPL fans. The Premier League has given the green light for contact training to begin in another sign that the season will resume soon. 
     
  • The US says Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China following Beijing’s plans to introduce a new, controversial security law. In Hong Kong itself, police fired pepper ball rounds at protestors and detained more than 360 people
     
  • Get this. Twitter has slapped a fact-checking label on Donald Trump’s tweets after the US president made certain claims which were false. The Donald has reacted in the most Trump-ian of ways – by threatening to shut down social media platforms that silence him. 

ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER

This weekday newsletter is brought to you by Trident Media, a group of Malaysian journalists with 60 years of combined media experience in four countries across TV, print and digital media.

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Trident Media · Seksyen 35 · Shah Alam, Selangor 40470 · Malaysia

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