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Too many have died in police custody

 | June 10, 2017

There'll probably be more such deaths until there's political will to set up a truly independent panel to probe police misconduct.

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There appears to be no end to the nightmare of unexplained deaths in police custody. On too many occasions have autopsy reports declared that men died in police cells from sudden death, a heart attack or a bout with asthma, but doubts linger in the minds of Malaysians.

On Feb 6, S Balamurugan was arrested and locked up at the North Klang district police station. Two days later, he was dead.

There are many holes in the police claim that he died on the way to hospital, having suffered an accident in his cell.

Here is a list of some of the inconsistencies we can glean from news reports about the incident.

Balamurugan’s wife said she went to the police station on Feb 6, as soon as she heard her husband had been arrested. According to her, she was denied access to him, but 45 minutes later, soon after a group of policemen were seen entering the station, she heard a blood curdling scream which she recognised as her husband’s.

Medical officer Elleyerance Hamid said he arrived at the lock-up at 12.10am on Feb 8 after being asked to check on Balamurugan. He said the man was stiff, his pupils were dilated, specks of dried blood encircled his mouth and nose and he did not respond to treatment.

Elleyerance observed that Balamurugan had probably been dead for at least one hour and told a policeman to complete a “No Sign of Life” form. He told the court he did not do further tests on the body because he did not want to tamper with evidence.

He questioned the veracity of a photo produced by the police, which showed Balamurugan by the bars of his cell. He said that when he arrived, the deceased was on the floor in the middle of the cell.

Why did the police phone Balamurugan’s wife on the morning of Feb 8 to tell her that her husband had suffered an accident, when he had, in fact, died on the previous night?

Why did the autopsy reveal that Balamurugan had died of a heart attack? Dissatisfied with this, his family obtained a second autopsy, which revealed evidence of blunt force trauma and multiple injuries.

Why did a policeman disobey a magistrate’s order to take Balamurugan immediately to hospital? The magistrate could see that Balamurugan was unwell. His face was swollen, he had difficulty standing and his eyes were closed. Instead the policeman said Balamurugan was “faking it” because he was “just another detainee”. A few hours later, Balamurugan dropped dead.

A 16-year-old witness, detained at the same time as Balamurugan, claimed to have seen him being slapped and punched in the chest and abdomen. Lawyers are now opposing the re-arrest of this teenager. They want to prevent witness intimidation.

Why were dummy CCTVs installed at the police station? The issue of non-functioning CCTVs has cropped up too many times, as in the case of the deaths of Teoh Beng Hock and Ahmad Sarbani at the MACC headquarters.

Why is the standard operating procedure for handling police detainees consistently ignored?

Without the political will to set up a truly independent Police Complaints and Misconducts Commission, no progress will be made. More deaths in police custody will follow.

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

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