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Deaths in custody: Have we not learned anything?

August 17, 2012

FMT LETTER: From R Thevarajan, via e-mail

Suaram strongly condemns the Royal Malaysian Police on the death of one Cheah Chin Lee, 36,  on  Aug 13, 2012. Cheah was pronounced dead at or about 5.20am at Jalan Pattani Northeast police headquarters.

The report of the post mortem stated that Cheah died as a result of “Asphyxia due to hanging”. The family was in shock and disbelief, questioning why Cheah would hang himself barely five hours in detention.

The family asserted that Cheah was mentally stable and held a permanent job. It begs the question as to why a suspect, upon being detained, dies in the lock-up. Have the lock-ups all over Malaysia turned into the gallows already?

The police, as reflected in past records, were brutal and violent to suspects and former suspects who have lost their lives in police custody. Whenever a complaint is lodged, the standard response from the police is that the deceased died due to his/her health problems. In this case, it appears that the police have attributed Cheah’s death to suicide.

The Lock-up Rules 1958 provides that an Officer-in-Charge is responsible in taking care of detainees at any time. We hereby demand the Officer-in-Charge to produce his daily journal for scrutiny immediately, failing which, the allegation of tampering with evidence by the Officer-in-Charge is inevitable.

The Officer-in-Charge must have recorded the entire allegation in his daily journal, if there was one on duty at the material time. The police must be held accountable and responsible for causing the death of suspects under their custody.

We place considerable weight on the statement by Georgetown OCPD Gan Kon Meng who had earlier stated that there would not be any cover-up in investigation. According to a report in Malaysiakini, Gan stated that  “…The papers would include recommendations for an inquest and further instructions on how to proceed with the case…”

Recently however, in an application for judicial review made by the family of another victim, Gunasegaran a/l Rajasundram, High Court Judge Hj Kamardin Hashim pointed out  that investigations should be conducted by police from different districts to ensure transparency and conflict of interest.

Notwithstanding, Suaram maintains that any investigation on police’s misconducts must be performed by an independent and external body i.e the desirable IPCMC. In the absence of IPCMC, the police will always be “investigated” by their own peers.

It is in the best interest of the public that a proper investigation be conducted followed by the setting up of a Coroner’s Court for an independent inquest, the findings of which must be disclose to the public. Otherwise, the public will hold the Officer-in-Charge and/or police liable for Cheah’s death.

Suaram will continue to push for the formation of Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to bring justice to Cheah’s family and to prevent future deaths in police custody, even if it falls on deaf ears.

The writer is Suaram’s Right to Justice Coordinator


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