End cover-up of custodial deaths, activist tells health minister

Human rights lawyer Eric Paulsen.

PETALING JAYA: A human rights lawyer today urged Health Minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad to put an end to the cover-up of custodial deaths by pathologists.

Speaking at the launch of a report on custodial deaths, Fortify Rights legal director Eric Paulsen cited the cases of A Kugan, Karuna Nithi, C Sugumar and S Balamurugan.

In these four cases of custodial deaths, Paulsen said the pathologists had sought to cover up for the police despite subsequent post-mortems which indicated abuse by the police.

“Every time there is a death in custody, alarm bells must go off because a person is in detention of the state,” he said after the launch of a Lawyers for Liberty report titled “Five faces: A story of police custodial deaths in Malaysia”.

“In these four cases, the pathologists erred heavily. The question is, why did they err?”

He said in the “new Malaysia”, the health ministry must do “soul searching” and realise that its duty is to the patients and not the police.

“Dzulkelfy must put a stop to this. Speak to pathologists and get to the bottom of why, in previous cases, the pathologists were compelled to side with the police.”

He also called for a “shift in culture” in the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), saying it needs to facilitate the truth rather than act like a defence team for the police and pathologists in some custodial death cases.

He cited the example of Karuna’s case, in which the AGC sought to overturn a coroner’s verdict that Karuna’s death in 2013 was due to physical assault, abuse and unlawful acts of police officers and other detainees.

Last October, the High Court set aside the government’s bid, but this was appealed by the AGC. The case is pending a hearing at the Court of Appeal.

Paulsen said he had written to Attorney-General (AG) Tommy Thomas to withdraw the appeal as he could not understand why the previous AG had wanted to exonerate the police and pathologists.

More importantly, he said, the AGC must act on coroner decisions which implicate certain individuals in custodial deaths.

The Lawyers for Liberty report today highlighted five prominent custodial death cases and included a slew of recommendations for the government on preventing custodial deaths.

They include the setting up of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission, declassification of all police standard operating procedures on arrest, detention and medical treatment for detainees, as well as the installation of CCTVs at all police stations and lock-ups.