IPCMC will help guard the guards

Malaysia's Chief Judge Siti Norma Yaakob has expressed her deep concern that 80 deaths in police custody occurred between January 2000 and December 2004 that's an average of 20 people dying per annum while in police custody, or almost a frightening two per month for four continuous years - but only six inquests, less than 10 percent of the deaths, were even held.

The Chief Judge has been troubled that in some instances, deaths occurred only hours after detention. As an example, mechanic Alias Othman was detained at 10 pm on March 22 for alleging causing a disturbance at a mosque in Bachok, Kelantan, but just a mere 5 hours later, he was very dead. If that's not scary, I don't know what would be? Siti Norma wants answers why so many people have died under such circumstances.

She demanded to know why police had seen it fit to decide that inquests were unnecessary in 22 cases of such deaths. The judge reckoned the abysmal failures to conduct inquests have resulted in public perception that there was foul play or the police had something to hide, which naturally added to the negative perceptions about the police force. In fact, the Criminal Procedure Code specifically makes it mandatory to have inquests into deaths under police custody.

Yet the Inspector-General of Police has not addressed this unacceptable omission, a violation of the Criminal Procedure Code. The IGP must be held responsible and accountable for his failure. As I said before, this man should be sacked immediately but obviously he is either too powerful for the PM to take any action against him or he has powerful strings to hang on to.

His seemingly 'untouchability' is hardly surprising when we consider that after his briefing and brainwashing the ruling party's parliamentarians, those law makers saw fit to rebel against the prime minister's decision to establish a police watchdog in the form of the IPCMC. The IGP's proselytising of non-Muslim policewomen would also have bolstered his Islamic credentials to enhance his standing with some Umno MPs.

Back to the expressed concerns of the good judge - she has been far too kind in euphemising the public perceives the police 'adversely' on the 80 deaths in their custody. As the current Malaysian comment goes, the most dangerous place in Malaysia is inside a police station.

Siti Norma Yaakob asked: "The obvious question one would ask is: What happened to Alias Othman? That question can only be answered if an inquest is held for him. The law governing death of persons in police custody is clearly set out in Section 334 of the Criminal Procedure Code and, from my reading of it, it is mandatory to hold inquests to ascertain the cause or causes of death."

Well, may I just add that if it's to be well-conducted , we cannot leave it in the police own hands. That's why we must have the IPCMC. Even the ancient Romans recognised the concept of 'conflict of interest' in their Latin saying of Quis custodiet ipsos custodies or "Who will guard the guards?