GEORGE TOWN: A Penang task force on custodial deaths has asked for an inquest into the death of a drug abuse suspect at the Bukit Mertajam police station.
Task force chairman P Ramasamy said the latest death in police custody involved 39-year-old lorry driver Mohd Izham Abdul Rahman, who died on Apr 27.
According to Ramasamy, Izham was arrested on Apr 25 and sent to the intensive care ward at Bukit Mertajam Hospital. He died the next day due to breathing difficulties (sesak nafas).
“There seems to be no abating in such cases of death in police custody. To date, this brings the total who died in custody in the country (this year) to five people,” Ramasamy told reporters on the sidelines of the state assembly today.
He said given the prevalence of deaths in custody, it was best that the government set up an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission on the police force.
“There is a culture of impunity among the police in these kinds of cases,” he said.
Ramasamy was joined by task force members Jagdeep Singh Deo and RSN Rayer.
Izham’s wife, Siti Hawa Mispon Bandi, 29, told reporters she was surprised her husband could die from shortness of breath as he had been healthy up till his death.
Hawa, who works at a pizzeria, said she would now have to take care of four children aged five to 10 by herself.
“I just want to know how he could die in police custody. He was healthy and I cannot understand how he could just die in an instant. I am not aware of him consuming drugs of any kind either,” she said.
Meanwhile, Central Seberang Prai police chief ACP Nik Ros Azhan Abdul Hamid said Izham’s death had been classified as sudden death.
When contacted, Nik Ros said he was also interested in conducting further investigations into Izham’s death.
In the recent Parliament sitting, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was reported as saying that 280 custodial deaths had been recorded from 2000 to 2016.
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia’s (Suhakam) annual report released last month showed custodial deaths in prison had increased to 269 in 2016, compared with 252 in 2015.
Suhakam said 35 deaths were recorded in immigration centres last year, compared with 82 in 2015.
Fourteen cases of death were reportedly recorded at lock-ups in 2014, followed by 12 in 2015, three in 2016 and, excluding Izham’s death, four this year.
Both Suhakam and the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission have said they will investigate the recent deaths in custody.
The home ministry has also assured that the federal police will investigate the matter.