Do post-mortem before sending home body of Indonesian prisoner, urges NGO

An NGO dedicated to preventing custodial deaths says the cause of death of an inmate should be thoroughly probed to prevent any infection he had spreading to other prisoners, staff and visitors.

KUALA LUMPUR: An NGO dedicated to preventing custodial deaths today urged the government not to send home the remains of an Indonesian who died in custody until a post-mortem is conducted.

Eliminating Deaths and Abuse In Custody Together (EDICT) is also unhappy with the coroner for not ordering a post-mortem to be done on Kajang Prison inmate Muhammad Sapria, an Indonesian, who died on March 5.

It also said one of the reasons given by the authorities for not doing the post-mortem — that he had suffered from an infectious disease — was “ridiculous”.

In a statement today, EDICT said the Shah Alam coroner informed the prison authorities on Tuesday that until a sudden death report was lodged in the Coroner’s Court, the coroner could not direct any medical officer to conduct a post-mortem on the body of a deceased person.

“EDICT is surprised that the coroner did not order the police to file a sudden death report.

“EDICT is further surprised that the coroner chose to adopt a narrow interpretation of the applicable law — Section 335(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) and Section 7.4 of the chief justice’s current Practice Directive on handling of sudden death reports.”

EDICT gave five reasons for this:

  • Even if it is true that Muhammad died after a stay of several days in a hospital and even if it is true that he suffered from an infectious disease and was being treated for it, the fact is, he died in custody;
  • Over the past decade, there have been a slew of reported cases in which Malaysian courts had decided that deaths in custody were due to “unlawful acts or omissions” on the part of jailers, sometimes with the collusion of doctors;
  • Since there has been no concerted national programme to take action to detect, curb or punish such unlawful acts or omissions, a cloud of doubt hangs over any death in custody, no matter what the police or doctors claim. The doubt requires that every provision of the law be exercised to verify the actual cause of death of any detainee;
  • Section 330 of the CPC is clear that unless the cause of death is “by accident”, the police officer must “send the body to the nearest government hospital or any other convenient place for the holding of a post-mortem examination …”; and,
  • The CPC puts such a premium on post-mortems that Section 335(2) even gives the coroner authority to order the exhumation of a body for purposes of a post-mortem.

Saying it had learned that one of the reasons given for not performing a post-mortem on Muhammad was that he had suffered from an infectious disease, the NGO added: “EDICT believes this is a ridiculous reason, since autopsies are commonly performed on bodies which have been wreaked by infectious diseases.”

It said deaths of detainees who suffered from infectious diseases should be thoroughly investigated, including through determination of cause of death by a pathologist, as this would help identify and prevent the spread of diseases to detainees, jailers and visitors.

“EDICT demands that the law be observed in respect of Muhammad and that plans to return his body to Indonesia be deferred until a post-mortem is performed.”