Set up independent body to probe deaths in custody, says Bar Council

A detainee died in Sungai Buloh Prison on Thursday while being held for a drug-related offence.

PETALING JAYA: The Bar Council has called for the setting up of an independent external organisation to investigate deaths in custody following the recent case of a man who died in Sungai Buloh Prison while being held for a drug-related offence.

M Ramachelvam, chairman of the council’s Task Force on the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC), said the organisation should be specifically mandated to investigate deaths in police lockups, prisons or immigration detention centres.

Yesterday, it was reported that V Mugilarasu, 35, had collapsed in his prison cell on Thursday night after complaining of chest pains. His family claimed that they were not immediately notified of his death.

Mugilarasu’s elder brother, Karunakaran Pillai, 40, told New Straits Times he suspected foul play because he had noticed bruises on the face, swellings on the arms, and bloodstains in the mouth of the deceased.

He also claimed his brother did not complain to him about being sick during a phone call hours before his death.

Ramachelvam called for a police investigation into the death in view of the family’s allegations. “It is also imperative that an inquest be held to establish the facts surrounding the death,” he told FMT.

He said the safety and well-being of detainees were the responsibility of the detaining authorities, and all deaths in police lockups, prisons or immigration detention centres must be thoroughly investigated.

Ramachelvam said the proposed bill for the setting up of IPCMC provided for the investigation of deaths in police custody by the commission.

“Similar provisions should be enacted in respect of other institutions that have the power and facilities for arrest and detention,” he said.

In March, de facto law and parliamentary affairs minister Takiyuddin Hassan had said the IPCMC bill would be fine-tuned before the Perikatan Nasional (PN) Cabinet reaches a final decision on its establishment.

Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Abdul Hamid Bador had agreed to the setting up of IPCMC after meetings with stakeholders including police associations in May last year.

This followed years of the police resisting calls for an independent oversight body.

Previously, in September 2018, the Pakatan Harapan administration had agreed to set up IPCMC, a move that was opposed by then IGP Mohamad Fuzi Harun.

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