Any increase in COVID-19 penalties ‘harmful to Malaysian citizens’: protesters

Youth group Sekretariat Solidariti Rakyat protesting the proposed amendments to Act 324 in front of the Parliament building today Dec. 16, 2021. Photo: Tharma Pillai/ Twitter
Youth group Sekretariat Solidariti Rakyat protesting the proposed amendments to Act 324 in front of the Parliament building today Dec. 16, 2021. Photo: Tharma Pillai/ Twitter

The Ministry of Health has reduced its proposed penalties for individuals and businesses who breach COVID-19 rules.

In its amendments put forward for the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988, or Act 342, the government is now seeking maximum penalties of a fine worth RM50,000 (US$11,800) or three years’ imprisonment, which is lower than its original move to raise penalties to a fine of up to RM100,000 and jail time of seven years. The ministry has also reduced its proposed penalties for businesses to a fine of up to RM500,000 instead of RM2 million.

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin today decided to postpone the third reading of Act 342 to next Monday to allow more time for reviews and discussions.

Changes to the proposed amendments, which did little to assuage fears of injustice, came after major outcry from Malaysians who felt that the penalties were disproportionate. 

“Any amendment that increases fine amounts and jail time is harmful to Malaysian citizens […] We also urge the government to enforce laws fairly. This amendment is designed to kill Malaysian citizens because the enforcement isn’t fair or transparent,” a memorandum by youth group Sekretariat Solidariti Rakyat to Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said today.

Individuals currently face RM10,000 fines and six months’ jail if they violate COVID-19 restrictions, which include a ban on large gatherings and going out without masks. 

Dozens from the group had gathered in front of the Parliament building, urging the Health Ministry to halt the amendments, while also pointing out the small fine of RM1,000 (US$240) imposed on the Education Ministry for hosting the “100-Day Malaysian Family Aspirations” event attended by thousands last week, raising concerns of coronavirus transmission. It was one of several examples of Malaysia witnessing the elite getting away with a slap on the wrist while working-class citizens are handed hefty penalties.

Doubling down on protests against the amendment is the Malaysian Health Coalition, who today signed a document saying that they were “deeply concerned” about the proposed amendments. A total of 27 organizations and 10 individuals from the coalition said that the penalties for individuals and companies breaching coronavirus measures are “excessive and disproportionate.” They also echoed Sekretariat Solidariti Rakyat’s statement about law enforcement being unfair.

Other stories:

MUDA wins suit to register as Malaysia’s first youth political party

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