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First death in custody in 2014, Time to Legislate Anti-Torture Law

The custodial death spree for year 2014 might have just started. The death of 40 years old A. Punniyanathan, the first death in custody case reported in 2014, adds to the list of deaths under police custody in Malaysia.

According to news report, Punniyanathan was found lying naked motionless at the Nibong Tebal police station lockup on 10 Feb 2014. He was arrested on 5 February 2014 and was scheduled to be charged in court for a theft case on 11 February 2014. According to the Officer In Charge of the Police District (OCPD) for Seberang Prai Selatan, Supt Shafien Mamat, he alleged that Punniyanathan was talking to himself and walking around in the cell naked restlessly before he was found dead at around 6.20 in the morning.
SUARAM questions the negligence by the Officer-in-Charge’s of the lock-up in failing in his duty to ensure the detainees are always safe and in good health. We demand that the Officer-in-Charge of the Nibong Tebal police station to produce his lockup diary immediately for scrutiny, failing which, the allegation of tampering with evidence by the Officer-in-Charge is inevitable.

According to the Lockup Rules 1958, police officer on duty has the responsibility to ensure the health of detainees and the conditions of lockup in the station. The said officer is also required to record in details every action and tasks performed on a daily basis.

The Nibong Tebal police station seems to be notorious for inmate’s deaths. Back in 2011, Ooh Joo Kia, 44 years old, was found dead 7 hours after being detained by the police from the same station. A. Punniyanathan is the second victim of death in custody in this police station.

OCPD, Supt Shafien Mamat was quick to urge the public not to speculate anything and claimed that there was no foul play in the death of Punniyanathan. He said that there were no injuries found on Punniyanathan's body. Can the words from the cops be trusted when no independent investigation has yet to be conducted on the death of Punniyanathan?

A clear example will be the case of Karuna Nithi, 43-year-old suspect who died at the Tampin police lock-up on 1st June 2013. The police chief of Negeri Sembilan, Senior Asst Comm Datuk Osman Salleh was fast to come up with a public statement that there were no bruises or external injuries on the deceased to suggest abuse while under police detention. Contrary to the claim, autopsy report shows that there were 49 injury marks found on Karuna Nithi's body.

Another case which involves early false statement by the police themselves will be the death of A. Kugan back in 2009. The Selangor Police Chief then was the current Inspector General of Police, Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar, who made two contradicting press statements. In his first statement, Khalid claimed that Kugan collapsed and died after drinking water. In the next media statement, Khalid made another claim that Kugan died of water in the lungs. The autopsy report revealed that Kugan had 45 external injuries plus internal injuries as well.

Are the police making such claims with impunity knowing that a dead man cannot rise up from his death and speak the truth?

Demonising any suspect with intention to discredit them and to convince that they are meant to die is despicable act. Brandishing Punniyanathan as alcoholic does not provide the reason for his death while under the custody of the police.

SUARAM maintains that any investigation on police’s misconducts must be performed by an independent and external body i.e. the desirable IPCMC. In the absence of IPCMC, SUARAM calls on the Enforcement Agencies Integrity Commission (EAIC) to proactively launch an investigation on the death of A Punniyanathan and bring the police officers that abused their powers to book.

Suaram reiterate our calls to the Home Miniter, Datuk Zahid Hamidi, to establish a permanent coroner's court to examine death in custody cases as he had promised in June 2013. We call on the government to legislate anti-torture law to outlaw torture in order to end torture practices by law enforcement agencies.

Released by,
R. Thevarajan
SUARAM Coordinator

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