Amend law to require probe into immigration centre deaths, says rights group

The Criminal Procedure Code currently only allows for an inquest to be undertaken if deaths take place in a police lock-up, prison or mental asylum. (File pic)

PETALING JAYA: An NGO has urged Putrajaya to amend the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) to include the need to conduct an inquest if deaths take place at immigration detention centres.

Eliminating Deaths and Abuse in Custody Together (EDICT) chairman M Visvanathan said the CPC currently only allowed for such an inquiry to be undertaken if deaths took place in a police lock-up, prison or mental asylum.

“Our CPC was drafted before Merdeka and there was then no restriction on the movement of people,” he told FMT.

He said many immigration detention centres had been set up over the last 30 years after foreigners began coming here to visit, work or study, or were smuggled in.

Visvanathan said the immigration authorities must be held accountable for the many cases of foreigners dying while in detention.

“This involves the image of the country, whether we uphold human rights and respect the dignity of detainees,” he said,

Visvanathan said this in response to an appeal by the widow of a Nigerian student who is calling for an inquest following the death of Orhions Ewansiha Thomas at the Bukit Jalil detention centre in July.

Blessing Uhunoma Eriamiator has alleged that her husband was assaulted while in custody.

Thomas, a PhD student at Limkokwing University, was arrested with 19 others during a raid at the Desa Aman Puri Apartment in Kepong, Selangor, and placed in detention.

Visvanathan said Section 334 of the CPC made it mandatory for the authorities to hold an inquiry if death took place in a police lock-up, prison or a mental hospital.

“In such cases, the police will send investigation papers to the local coroner to determine the cause of death,” he said.

He also said Section 339 of the CPC allowed the public prosecutor to order for an inquest — as was done in the case of firemen Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim, who died outside a temple in Subang Jaya following a riot last year.

Visvanathan said family members of custodial death victims could also get an order from the High Court to expedite an inquest.

“I had a case of a man who died in the Tapah Prison in 2017 but no inquest was held. A court order was obtained last year but the inquest has yet to begin,” said Visvanathan, who is also a lawyer.