After 13 years, time for oversight body on cops, says Bar

Malaysian Bar president George Varughese says the detainees’ deaths might have been prevented if police officers on duty were more diligent.

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Bar has again urged the government to set up the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to act as an independent and external oversight body on the police force following two more cases of deaths in custody.

The IPCMC was among the recommendations made by the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysia Police in its May 2005 report.

The oversight body would be tasked with investigating complaints about police personnel and holding the police accountable for their conduct, including acts of negligence.

“Although 13 years have passed since the report was published, the need to set up the IPCMC remains as relevant, and even more pressing, today.

“The deaths of Nizam Idris and S Thanabalan are an urgent wake-up call that the government must no longer ignore,” Malaysian Bar president George Varughese said in a statement.

Nizam, 39, was found hanged in the Selama police station lock-up on March 17. Selama district police chief Deputy Superintendent Loo Lian Lay said the Royal Malaysia Police’s Integrity and Standards Compliance Department (JIPS) was probing Nizam’s death to establish if the police officers on duty had been negligent. Loo said the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) was also conducting an investigation.

In the second case, Thanabalan, 38, was pronounced dead at the Shah Alam Hospital on April 17 after being found unconscious at the Shah Alam central lock-up.

He had been detained for some 20 days. The director-general of health Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said Thanabalan had shown symptoms of fever, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and lack of appetite for four days before he died.

Varughese said it appeared that Thanabalan might not have received adequate medical attention at the onset of his illness.

“The Malaysian Bar is appalled that two more men have died while in police custody, within the space of merely a few weeks,” he added.

Varughese said the deaths might have been prevented if the police officers on duty had been more diligent in ensuring the safety and well-being of the detainees entrusted to their care.

He added that the Malaysian Bar was deeply concerned that Nizam’s case was being investigated by JIPS, which by virtue of being a department within the police force, was not an independent body.

He said the EAIC, meanwhile, was a commission that was not dedicated to the oversight of the police force. He said it was under-resourced, under-staffed and unable to take any action or bring any wrongdoer to book.

“We are not aware of any reported results of investigation by JIPS or by the EAIC, which lends to the perception that acts of misconduct and negligence in these cases may well go unaddressed and/or unpunished,” Varughese said.

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