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54.5% of death in custody cases ended up with no further action being taken.

Many sneered at our Home Ministry’s lack of basic math skills when it blundered recently on the actual number of deaths in custody (also covered in REFSA Rojak 30 Mar – 5 Apr). While the error becomes the target of rancor and ridicule, let it not distract us from figures that are no laughing matter.

From year 2000 to February 2011, 156 people were found dead in the police lock-up or custody.

Out of these 156 cases, 85 (or 54.5%) had the vague sheets of “No Further Action” pulled over them.

Only 2 cases were brought to legal proceeding, 3 inquests were opened and 1 was prosecuted, 4 inquests were completed, 32 cases were held by magistrate and 29 cases were still under investigation.

Source: Ministry of Home Affairs written parliamentary answer to MP Kulasegaran (DAP-Ipoh Barat), 8 Mar – 7 Apr 2011

This runs contradictory to the Criminal Procedure Code, which requires an inquiry to conduct investigations on all custodial deaths.

Royal Malaysian Police Director of Criminal Investigation have also mandated for all police investigations into deaths in police custody to be completed within the period of 1 month, and that an inquest must be held (Directive No. 10/2004 dated 29 May 2004).

Pundits and watchdogs have, however, lamented the inconsistent probe into these deaths, not to mention a tangle of weaknesses in the system that could lead to conflict of interest in post-mortem investigations.

In the parliamentary reply (reference number: 3489) to MP Kulasegaran (DAP-Ipoh Barat)’s question on this matter, the Ministry of Home Affairs also revealed that most of the deaths in lock-ups were caused by health complications and fights among inmates.

This further calls to question the discipline and hygiene of lock-ups, which image has already been tarnished with the high profile deaths of A Kugan and a few others suspected to have died of torture in police custody.

Various groups have demanded inquests of death in custody to be made mandatory. This request has been echoed by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) and the 2005 Royal Commission Report.[1] Nonetheless, the authorities seem to be tossing the buck at each other when responding to this appeal.

The Police said that this is the Magistrate’s jurisdiction, whereas the Attorney General’s Chamber stated the Magistrate shall conduct an inquest for every death in custody.[2]

Let these bodies not be further buried in layers of blame game. We need an independent inquest commission to call out errant officers without hierarchical pressure, while clearing up the murky clouds which are unnecessarily tainting the integrity of the police force.

[1] SUHAKAM, Maklum Balas Daripada Kementerian Dan Agensi Kerajaan Terhadap Laporan Tahunan Suhakam 2009; The 2005 Report of the Royal Commission to enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysia Police.

[2] SUHAKAM, Maklum Balas Daripada Kementerian Dan Agensi Kerajaan Terhadap Laporan Tahunan Suhakam 2009, p. 25.

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