KUCHING: The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) has condemned Tuesday’s arrests of five protesters participating in a peaceful assembly in front of the Raja Permaisuri Bainun Hospital in Ipoh, Perak.
The protesters were demanding for the improved working conditions of hospital cleaners at the hospital.
Based on media reports, M Saraswathy, L Danaletchumy, V Santhiran, P Jothi and C Subramaniam @ Raja were arrested for allegedly obstructing civil servants from carrying out their duties.
Saraswathy, Danaletchumy and Santhiran are office-bearers in the National Union of Workers in Hospital Support and Allied Services, while Jothi and Subramaniam are members of Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM), said CIJ executive director Wathshlah G Naidu.
According to PSM secretary-general A Sivarajan, the five were ordered by a magistrate yesterday to be released by 6pm.
Among the concerns raised by the protesters were an alleged lack of protective gear when cleaning Covid-19 wards and an inadequate supply of face masks and gloves, as well as allegedly no annual increment in wages, no increment of eligible number of annual paid holidays or sick leave and discontinued subsidised transport services for the workers.
“The actions of the authorities are counterproductive and a mockery of the acknowledgement given to frontliners in their commitment in combating the pandemic.
“Article 10 of the Federal Constitution guarantees all citizens the fundamental right to form associations, to engage in peaceful assembly and promotes freedom of expression.”
Wathshlah said any restriction to these rights should be legitimate, necessary or expedient and proportionate in the interest of maintaining public order, morality and national security.
“So we ask — did the protest violate national security, public order or morality? It was their constitutional right to protest, assemble peacefully and express their views.
“The five unionists were merely airing out concerns of the hospital cleaners about the allegedly poor treatment they received from their employer. Besides that, the five unionists complied with social distancing during their picket and had their temperatures checked prior to protesting,” he added in a statement yesterday.
Wathshlah said police should not have arrested them and brought them to court in chains, adding, “Respect our basic human right to be treated with dignity.”
He also reminded the government to ensure that its Covid-19 preventive measures were legal, necessary and proportionate to stall the spread of the virus.
“Locking up individuals for protesting is counterproductive. Leaving them in detention places heightened the risk as they may not be able to practice the necessary hygiene and social distancing in the course of their confinement — as admitted by the Prisons Department director-general recently.
“Union-busting should also not be carried out, especially given the nature of the allegations and its immediate impact on health frontliners battling the pandemic should their concerns be addressed,” he said.
“CIJ stands in solidarity with the five unionists and calls for them to be released.
“The organisation also called on the government to stop with the rhetoric and to translate their actions to guarantee the respect and promotion of the human rights of all its peoples,” he added.