PETALING JAYA: Home minister Hamzah Zainudin must disclose the steps taken to improve police accountability in custodial death cases, a lawyer said.
M Ramachelvam, a member of the Bar Council’s taskforce on police accountability, said while custodial deaths should remain a human rights issue, any possible links with race should be looked into.
“It’s commonly said one death in custody is one too many. The public will be concerned whether it’s a Malay, Chinese or Indian, or even a foreigner, who dies in custody,” he said.
Hamzah had told MPs in the Dewan Rakyat not to tie the issue of deaths in custody to ethnicity, saying there was no evidence of racial discrimination against people who died in lock-ups.
Ramachelvam said Hamzah’s “grand omission” in his statement to the Dewan Rakyat was the steps that had been taken to address police accountability in such cases.
Activist Khalid Ismath, from Eliminating Deaths and Abuse in Custody Together (EDICT), questioned the statistics given, saying his NGO had repeatedly pointed out inaccuracies in the ministry’s interpretation of custodial deaths.
“It is a number that is inaccurate because deaths recorded by the ministry are only those that occur in detention centres.
“The definition of custodial deaths is not just detainees who had died in lock-ups and jails, but also deaths that happen in radio cars, at hospitals or during transit, as long as the detainee is still under custody by the authorities.”
Khalid said many cases of custodial deaths occurred in hospitals.
He said EDICT agreed with Hamzah that custodial deaths should not be related to race, adding that “real statistics” seemed to show there was no racial discrimination.
“The detainees (who died) were treated badly by police or prison officers regardless of race.
“However, we need to stress that the poor treatment and negligence is detrimental and must be stopped. The government must find ways to address the issue.”
He urged the government to engage with NGOs on the matter, claiming it had not been responsive to their requests for meetings.