KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA — The recent deaths of three men in the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM)’s custody sparked condemnation among members of the public and have reignited calls for an Independent Police Complaint and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).
The latest involved 21-year old Surendran Shanker, who was pronounced dead at the Kluang Hospital on 27 May — less than a month after he was moved to a prison in Simpang Renggam in Johor.
A week prior, 43-year-old security guard Sivabalan Subramaniam‘s death brought shock and outrage to many, as it was reported that he had died in just under an hour after being taken into the Gombak district police station.
The late Sivabalan’s family raised questions about the time of his death — while his sister said that she had received a call from the police at 3 pm saying that he was seriously ill at the Selayang Hospital, Sivabalan’s time of death was recorded as 12.25 pm in the police report.
Klang Member of Parliament, Charles Santiago said that the discrepancy “warrants an investigation and inquest”.
Santiago told the Malay Mail that “the police investigating themselves should not be the way forward”.
Instead, investigations into Sivabalan’s case must be conducted by the National Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) and the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC), he said.
40-year-old cow milk trader A. Ganapathy, whose death sparked the #JusticeForGanapathy on social media, also died in custody in the same police station on 18 April.
Gombak district police chief Arifai Tarawe warned the public against turning the case into a “racial issue” and to only “quote someone with authority” when discussing the matter.
“If you still want to do it, then don’t do it in a way that will make people angry, worried or annoyed … They will be prosecuted by law if they persist,” he told reporters during a press conference on 30 April.
Malaysiakini’s assessment of official data and SUARAM’s statistics, however, demonstrated that Malaysian Indians are disproportionately represented in the number of reported custodial deaths.
This is despite ethnic Indians making up less than 7 per cent of the total Malaysian population, based on data compared from 2002 to 2016.
Malaysian Indians account for 23 per cent — almost a quarter — of official deaths in police custody. SUARAM, however, claimed that the percentage could be higher, at 55 per cent.
Other than the aforementioned three cases, high-profile cases of Malaysian Indian men who had died in police custody include, but are not limited to:
- Kugan Ananthan in 2009, whose death was classified by the Attorney-General as murder, with post-mortem results revealing 42 signs of beating on his body;
- Dharmendran Narayansamy in 2013, whose pathologist report revealed that he had sustained 52 bruises from blunt force trauma that led to “acute massive loss of blood” and eventual “hypovolemic shock”, in addition to two staple puncture wounds on both of his ears;
- Karuna Nithi Palani Velu in 2013, who was found to have sustained 49 injuries, including a fractured jaw;
- Balamurugan Suppiah in 2017, whose post-mortem results revealed that his death was caused by coronary artery disease with multiple blunt force injuries. Police officers involved had reportedly ignored the magistrate’s orders to take him to the hospital for treatment.
In Kugan’s case, only one police constable found guilty of involvement in his case was convicted of “causing hurt” and was handed a three-year jail sentence in 2012.
EAIC’s probe into Dharmendran’s case found that his death was caused by police abuse, adding that it was likely that police tampering of evidence was also involved in the aftermath.
However, the four officers who were accused of Dharmendran’s murder were cleared of their charges.
In Balamurugan’s case, no officers were convicted despite the EAIC’s findings that violent acts by police officers may have caused or could have been linked to his death under their custody.
A case involving custodial deaths of Malaysian detainees of other races is that of Syed Azlan Syed Mohamed Nur, whose body was found by EAIC to have sustained 61 wounds as a result of police beatings.
He died in custody in 2014.
EAIC found evidence of the police’s attempts to dispose of incriminating evidence, including a rubber mat and a carpet that was believed to be stained with Azlan’s blood.
While Malays comprise the majority of the official custodial death toll at 42.4 percent, their cases were disproportionately underreported, Malaysiakini noted.
Deaths in police custody involving Malay detainees only make up 17.7 per cent of cases reported in the media and to SUARAM.
Outrage and calls for accountability over custodial deaths ensued
A petition on Change.org titled “PDRM Gagal, IPCMC Now: End police brutality and misconduct in Malaysia” garnered 24,497 signatures as of 10.22 am on Wednesday.
Started by SUARAM, the petition is addressed to the Home Affairs Ministry and its minister, Hamzah Zainudin.
SUARAM said in its petition that the three recent reported custodial deaths were just a few in “a long list of deaths that, until today, have not received justice”.
In its recent petition, SUARAM wrote: “How long will Malaysia be haunted by PDRM’s systemic failures – their negligence, unchecked brutality, and misconduct – failures that cost lives, induce national trauma, and enable discrimination?”
“The rakyat has been stepped over, time and time again. No more,” said the NGO.
SUARAM demanded, in addition to the establishment of the IPCMC, the immediate implementation of the following measures:
- Appointing independent external bodies to investigate recent cases of custodial death;
- Setting up health units in all lockups and custodial centres; and
- Carrying out automatic inquests for all cases of death in custody, in line with Section 344 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Act 593).
Stating that PDRM’s integrity is at stake as a result of the custodial deaths, SUARAM said that the people “demands an immediate response from the government” to “address PDRM’s systemic failures”.
“The rakyat cannot trust the institution that claims to serve us if their actions violently say otherwise. #PDRMGagal #IPCMCNow”, said SUARAM.
MISI: Solidariti, in an Instagram Story on Monday night, urged more individuals to sign the SUARAM petition, as greater numbers may increase the likelihood of the IPCMC Bill being tabled.
“SUARAM and the IPCMC Coalition are working to bring the IPCMC Bill to Parliament.
“At least 40k signatures are needed for the petition to have the possibility of impact,” said the group.
Recent custodial deaths “have deeply affected not only the Malaysian-Indian community, but other Malaysians as well”
Instagram users @saran_anandan and @_asmeetaaa drafted email templates in English and Malay for members of the public to send to the relevant Ministers, including Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and de-facto Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Takiyuddin Hassan, as well as MPs.
Stating that the lack of accountability for the custodial deaths is “a deep blemish on Malaysia’s criminal justice system”, they said that the deaths “have deeply affected not only the Malaysian-Indian community, but other Malaysians as well”.
“The deceased deserve justice, and the Malaysian public deserves greater accountability from the police.
“The establishment of the IPCMC will be a step in the right direction not only in ensuring a transparent police force, but also in giving Malaysians the confidence that the police can be trusted in carrying out their duty in protecting and safeguarding the public,” the template read.
Previously, Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman utilised social media to speak up on Ganapathy’s death and the issue of police brutality in a 57-second video clip titled #JusticeforGanapathy.
“If it can happen to them, it can happen to anyone of us.
“Push for accountability, transparency, integrity.
“Push for IPCMC.
“#JusticeForGanapathy,” the caption of his Instagram post read.
The former Youth and Sports Minister was subsequently summoned by the police for questioning on 22 May over the video.
Bukit Aman Criminal Investigation Department deputy director (Investigation and Legal) Mohd Azman Ahmad Sapri said that Syed Saddiq’s case was being investigated under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.
Graphic designer and political satirist Fahmi Reza questioned in a poster he made, and which was posted on Instagram on 28 May: “How many more must die? Stop deaths in police custody.”
Setbacks along the road to IPCMC
In its article in August last year, “The Bloodied Arm of the Law”, New Naratif detailed the delays in the tabling of the IPCMC Bill since the idea for such a commission was first conceived in May 2005, following a high number reports alleging police abuse against its detainees.
While then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said in September 2018 that the IPCMC would replace the EAIC, then-Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in March the following year said that the decision on establishing the commission was pending further feedback.
Outgoing Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohamad Fuzi Harun said in May 2019 that PDRM was against the IPCMC. The new IGP, Abdul Hamid Bador was, however, supportive of setting up the commission.
The IPCMC Bill made its way into Parliament for its first reading in July 2019. It was then referred to the Parliamentary Special Select Committee during its second reading in October 2019.
The select committee proposed 37 amendments to the draft legislation.
Delays in Parliament arose around December 2019 when the second and third readings of the Bill were deferred to March last year “to allow a parliamentary select committee time to gather more feedback”, New Naratif noted.
Progress appeared to be slow even after the deferment, as Takiyuddin said in March last year that the IPCMC Bill needs to be fine-tuned and reviewed further before Cabinet makes a final decision.
In August last year, Hamzah announced in Parliament that a task force will be set up to further study the IPCMC Bill.
However, the Perikatan Nasional government introduced a Bill for the Independent Police Conduct Commission (IPCC) instead.
This was challenged by rights groups such as the Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Centre), which noted that the IPCC — like the police force — is placed under the purview of the Home Ministry.
“This also opens the door to the usage of secrecy as a reason to prevent public reporting of the outcome of cases the IPCC investigates and their recommendations, thereby rendering the IPCC as secretive and opaque as the Royal Malaysian Police,” said the centre on 29 August last year.
Among other problematic aspects of the IPCC Bill, said C4 Centre, includes Section 6(3) that allows members and retirees of the RMP and public service, including the Home Ministry, to be members of the IPCC.
An amendment to Section 27(4) of the IPCMC Bill via the IPCC Bill, it added, “effectively allows any of the witnesses or persons of interest in an investigation of misconduct to refuse to answer any questions asked during the investigation”.
Amnesty International Malaysia branded the IPCC Bill as “a shameful step backwards in ensuring police accountability”.
“The proposed IPCC does not have adequate powers to conduct full and thorough investigations or to take sufficient action against police officers found to have committed misconduct,” said Katrina Maliamauv, Executive Director of Amnesty International Malaysia on 28 August last year.
She added: “The “independence” of this proposed commission is also deeply compromised. If this commission cannot ensure effective oversight of the police, then it will fail in serving its ultimate purpose.”
“Malaysians deserve a police commission that balances the powers of law enforcement officials and ensures that individual police officers, as well as the police agency in general, respect the rule of law. At a time when police brutality has taken the forefront of international discussion, it is regretful that the authorities are so reluctant to table a Bill that would hold the police to account for abuse,” said Maliamauv.
More recently, in a statement on Tuesday (1 June), Amnesty International Malaysia criticised the failure of the Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan governments and the current Perikatan Nasional government to establish IPCMC despite numerous “consultations and studies” that they had carried out.
The human rights NGO added that the IPCMC must adhere to recommendations by international standards in relation to impartiality and independence.
Such recommendations include exercising the power to investigate and gather evidence, access to custodial centres or places where death and abuses had occurred, and the capacity to implement its proposal to charge and take disciplinary action against individuals found responsible and guilty of misconduct.
“Without it, the commission will be rendered ineffective. It would suffer the same fate as the EAIC that was criticised for its inability to enforce its recommendations,” said Amnesty International Malaysia.