KUALA LUMPUR: A witness at the inquest investigating the death of Nigerian PhD student Orhions Ewansiha Thomas said an immigration officer had asked Thomas for RM2,000 for each person to guarantee their early release from custody.
The witness, a Nigerian who was arrested with Thomas and several others on July 4 last year, said they had also surrendered their passports and visas, which were still valid at the time.
“I had asked them why they were keeping us. But they said they were told to arrest everybody and they will check on the documents when they got to the office. If we had valid documents, then they would let us go,” he told the coroner’s court.
He said he was having dinner with Thomas when immigration officers conducted an operation on the night of July 3 at the Desa1 Apartment in Kepong here. He added that they had left their documents in the car.
He said Thomas had tried to get back to the car to get his passport, but the immigration officers thought he was running away. He said he witnessed the officers hitting him, causing an injury to his leg.
“After that, they took us to the other side of the building. I saw so many guys already in handcuffs there. But I knew these guys did not have passports,” the witness said.
They were then taken to the immigration centre at Jalan Duta where they were asked to rest. That was where an immigration officer had asked for the bribes, he testified.
The witness added that he was not aware that Thomas had a large amount of cash with him until they were in custody.
“Thomas came to whisper to me that one of these officers wanted to help him get out from there. I said ‘Ok, talk to him nicely since you have your documents and a bruise on the leg’,” the witness said.
“He told me the officer had asked him for RM2,000. Thomas had over RM10,000 with him,” the witness said, adding that Thomas had given the officer a total of RM6,000 as bribes for three people, including himself.
When asked why Thomas had the cash on him, the witness said Thomas had told him he had wanted to pay his school fees. (Thomas was a full-time student at Limkokwing university.)
“He also had a wife and two kids staying with him in Malaysia.”
He said despite paying the bribes, they were still taken to the Bukit Jalil immigration depot at 4pm on July 5, where Thomas had given the officers the balance of his money, amounting to RM5,000.
Detainees were told to do 20 frog jumps, says witness
“They took us to the main lock-up. When we got to Block A, they asked us to sit down in lines. They asked the people in charge to check if we had anything with us. They asked us to undress and frog-jump 20 times.”
He said Thomas was forced to do the frog-jumps despite him telling the officers he had injuries on his leg.
Thomas had also complained of having high blood pressure to the officers. “He had never complained to me about any illness before.“
The witness said a medical assistant had checked him and given him medicines on July 6. But on July 7, the witness testified that the medical assistant was not present.
He said on the 7th, “another small guy” was there to give medicine to those who were sick, including Thomas. He said the man was not an immigration official.
Speaking on the conditions in the cell, he said the detainees were asked to sleep on the floor. “There was no pillow, no mattress, no nothing.”
He said that on July 8 he was placed in the cell opposite that where Thomas was held. He said he saw Thomas using a water bottle as a pillow.
Recounting the events leading to Thomas’s death, he said on the morning of July 9, he heard Thomas making noises.
“All the people inside the cell became afraid and they all moved to one side of the cell. I don’t know if he was okay.
“After that, I saw him trying to stretch his hand. He was still making some kind of noise. He tried to stretch two or three times, then he urinated in his clothes.
“I looked at his stomach and noticed he had stopped breathing. I tried to call one boy – he was Malay or Indonesian – I tried to call him to ask him to get the attention of an officer.”
He said when the immigration officer came to check on Thomas, he left momentarily and came back with the other officers who were on shift at the time.
The witness testified that the paramedic had instructed the officers to carry out cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) over the phone. “But it was too late. He was already gone.”
When asked how long it took before the officers to start the CPR, the witness said this was delayed by 10 to 15 minutes.
Thomas’ family filed an application for an inquest into his death as they suspected that he could have been assaulted and had been refused medication while in detention.
Thomas was arrested with 19 others during a raid on an apartment in Kepong.
The inquest continues next Friday.