Suhakam lambasts police over detainee’s death in custody

Suhakam-BalaPETALING JAYA: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has taken the police to task over the death in custody of S Balamurugan last month.

Suhakam, which recently concluded its independent investigation into Balamurugan’s death, said the police knew or ought to have known of the existence of “a real and immediate threat” to his life. However, they failed to take adequate measures within the scope of their powers that could have prevented that risk, it said.

The rights group also said there was a “serious breach or wilful disregard” of the police’s duty to protect life. This was seen in their failure to provide medical attention to Balamurugan despite directions from the magistrate to do so.

Evidence from the probe, which took into account interviews and statements from 43 witnesses, also identified multiple systemic failures on the part of the police regarding the treatment of detainees.

This included the failure in following Lock-Up Rules 1953, police standard operating procedures, the court order and relevant international human rights norms and standards, it said.

“Despite a growing awareness of issues concerning the proper treatment of persons in police custody, the implementation of best practices and recommendations, particularly from Suhakam’s 2016 Death in Custody Report, is seriously lacking.

“Some recommendations have not been implemented at all and it is observed that the police are still ignorant of their duty of care to detainees, or the fact that there is a responsibility on the police to ensure that the individual in their custody is not deprived of his right to life,” it said in a statement today.

Balamurugan, 44, died in police custody on Feb 8 in the North Klang police station. According to news reports, he was found with his face badly swollen and bleeding.

A police report lodged by Balamurugan’s lawyer added that at his remand hearing on Feb 7, the detainee was weak and unable to walk, had bruises on his face, was bleeding from his nose and mouth, and vomited blood. His lawyer also said Balamurugan had been assaulted by the police.

The first post-mortem, carried out at the Klang Hospital, indicated he died of heart problems. His family requested a second post-mortem, which was granted by the Shah Alam High Court.

According to Suhakam’s investigation, both pathologists concluded that the injuries Balamurugan sustained could have triggered a heart attack or worsened his heart condition, leading to his death.

The pathologist from Hospital Kuala Lumpur, where the second autopsy was performed, added that the injuries could not be ignored as they appeared to be abusive, and not self-inflicted or accidental in nature.

“Suhakam reiterates that in accordance with Principle 1 of the United Nations Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, ‘all persons under any form of detention or imprisonment shall be treated in a humane manner and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person’.

“Principle 6 further states that ‘no person under any form of detention or imprisonment shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’,” Suhakam said.

It added that the right to life was a pre-requisite to the realisation of all other human rights, and guaranteed under the Federal Constitution.

Suhakam urged the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) and the government to ensure that detainees were held in a lawful, recognised and gazetted place of detention in accordance with the law.

It added that cases of police abuse, misconduct and alleged torture must be investigated, and those responsible prosecuted. Authorities must also ensure internal disciplinary proceedings and criminal action for breaches of instruction, including court orders, it said.

Furthermore, a custodial medical team should be placed in police lock-ups as such areas were not equipped to handle suspects who required medical attention.

Fundamental right of access to justice