SUARAM raps Bukit Aman’s custodial death unit after another man dies in custody

SUARA Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) has renewed its objections to detentions without trial and called on the federal police headquarters to “buck up”, following what the vocal human rights group said was the 20th reported custodial death this year.

According to news reports, a 33-year-old man died while being held in police custody at the Shah Alam central lockup yesterday (Sept 11).

The man – who had been arrested under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 – was found lying unconscious in his cell in the wee hours of the morning and confirmed dead when brought to hospital.

An autopsy is being held today to determine the cause of his death, which has since been classified by the Royal Malaysian Police Force (PDRM) as a case of sudden death.

SUARAM executive director Sevan Doraisamy said the group was extremely upset and worried about the latest custodial death, and questioned the transparency and openness of investigations into all cases of deaths in custody so far.

Sevan Doraisamy

He claimed that even though Bukit Aman set up the Deaths in Custody Criminal Investigation Unit (USJKT), there has been no improvement in the matter since its establishment at the beginning of the year.

“We understand the time required for police investigations in such custodial death cases,” Sevan said in a statement today. “However, the time taken is too long.”

The human rights activist said that based on SUARAM’s monitoring, there were at least 14 cases of deaths in custody reported during the first quarter of 2022.

“6 months later and still no updates?”

However, the USJKT has still not provided any information on the progress of the investigation into the cases six months on, according to Sevan.

“The names and details of the victim, the results of the autopsy report, the physical and mental health of the victim before being locked up, the status and progress of the current investigation – all of these are still unknown,” he said.

This is even despite civil society repeatedly sending letters and memorandums to PDRM requesting a meeting with its Integrity and Standards Compliance Department (JIPS) director Datuk Azri Ahmad, under which the USJKT is parked.

Datuk Azri Ahmad

“We were only told to wait for an email regarding the development of meeting arrangements and there was no development after that,” he claimed.

“This contradicts the value of openness and transparency that PDRM always mentions in the handling of death in custody cases,” Sevan pointed out.

He remarked that the decision not to make such information public was an apparent attempt by the police to “erase the identity” of the victims and “depersonalise” them to mere numbers in statistics.

“No one, except PDRM itself, knows about its operations or procedures in the investigation and handling of deaths in custody.”

Sevan, meanwhile, reiterated SUARAM’s position that mandatory inquests should be carried out immediately for all deaths in custody to prevent evidence from being tampered with and crime scenes being falsified.

He said this is the “most appropriate and legally effective” way to find the truth and determine the cause of death, which can be due to criminal elements, negligence or health factors.

“We are also very surprised by the fact that only one case has been charged in court and one case referred to the coroner for inquest proceedings so far, even though Section 334 of the Criminal Procedure Code clearly stipulates the obligation to conduct inquest proceedings for all deaths that occur in police custody,” he noted.

Investigation into such cases, Sevan added, must be carried out by a third party or an independent external body – not by the PDRM – to prevent any “interference” and conflict of interest. – Sept 12, 2022


Main pic credit: Getty Images

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