Murder and service in the armed forces

Opinion  |  S Thayaparan
Published:  |  Modified:

"They complained of exhaustion while carrying out the training and were given rest in the detention room. They were experiencing vomiting, exhaustion and shortness of breath," – statement on the deaths of Mohd Baihaqi Nik Mat, 28, and Muhammad Lailatulman Mohd Sukri, 26.

That quote was the statement that followed the deaths of two seamen last year. All of this should sound familiar, especially if you have been keeping up with the work of human rights lawyers Latheefa Koya and N Surendran. Two political operatives who actually seem to be serving the country, instead of making grand statements to galvanise the base.

In this case, three uniformed personnel were remanded to help in the investigations into the deaths of these two servicemen. Post-mortems on these young seamen revealed signs of abuse and injuries, which necessitated a reclassification from the original findings to murder.

Navy chief Admiral Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin (photo) said he would cooperate with the police. Then defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein said on Twitter no less, "I have instructed the RMN (Navy) to provide its full cooperation to the police in their investigations. Nothing will be hidden. That is my promise".

If you think that this points to a happy ending in this case, you would be wrong. There is always a familiar pattern. A service person dies. This is followed by statements that it was part of a training exercise. Then the family points to suspicious circumstances and then (maybe) there is an investigation. The usual assurance from the political establishment that there would be no cover-ups.

I keep re-reading Latheefa’s piece on the death of J Soosaimanicckam and cannot help but feel frustrated at how the Royal Malaysian Navy has morphed into something unrecognisable. Many former service people feel this way. Everything about Soosai’s death – like those before him – reeks of the uncaring attitude of the establishment and points to the systemic dysfunction of the armed services.

When people die in this country especially when it is linked to the state security apparatus most times, the cause is "sudden death". If you want to know why people distrust the security service in this country, you do not have to look far. The familiarity of Soosai's death – like those who were murdered while in service to this country – is an indictment on the way how the Ministry of Defence operates.

Just last month, Surendran said it was unacceptable for Admiral Ahmad Kamarulzaman to say...

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