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Nine custodial deaths in less than four months!

The counter is rising for cases of death in custody in Malaysia - now averaging more than two deaths a month!

This time, a 56 year old drug addict who was arrested on April 22 and detained at the Bayan Baru lock-up was pronounced dead when he was on the way to the Penang Hospital to seek treatment.

This is the second death in custody taking place in the Bayan Baru lock-up, which is a newly-built centralised lockup facility and the sixth case which happened directly or indirectly under the custody of the Penang police.

The home minister’s RM25 million centralised lock-up is now proven to be yet another failed project, with two cases of death in custody taking place in the Bayan Baru centralised lock-up itself within two months of this year.

We are still waiting for the government to convene the Coroner’s Court on these nine (9) cases of sudden death. But the question remains, will the Coroner’s Court proved to be another toothless tiger, spewing out “open verdicts” like in the case of the inquest of former political aide Teoh Beng Hock?

Law enforcement in this country is now confused - we have a system which is obsessed about making laws which deal with political dissent and such a system is paralysed when it comes to dealing with actual criminals. Hence, criminals and crime suspect are dealt with using brute force and outdated or even anti-human rights practices.

Who will then watch over the watchmen? Who will police our police when they crossed the boundaries of the law? Many good cops are now disappointed and tired with the current situation where abuse of power is rampant. Former inspector-general of police (IGP) Musa Hassan himself exposed how ministers intervened in police operations.

The government's continual refusal to established the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) is not only showing contempt against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong whose royal commission headed by ex-Chief Justice Mohammed Dzaiddin had proposed the said body in 2005; it also raised questions on whether the government is deliberately keeping the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) as a politicised force to further the ruling party’s political interest.

Although PDRM is not under the purview of the state government, I request the state government, with its limited power,  to intervene through the State Security Council where the state chief police officer (CPO)  is a member, since more than half the cases of death in custody this year is directly or indirectly related to PDRM Penang.

We must demand accountability, and a thorough public report from PDRM on this matter including what are the steps taken to mitigate this problem.

I have previously written to PDRM to request a visit to the centralised lock-up in Bayan Baru together with the relevant NGOs to understand the new facilities, but was denied permission to do so. I hope PDRM will allow civil society and human rights groups to conduct visits to the centralised lock-up facilities and other lock-up facilities to see for ourselves measures taken by PDRM to prevent death in custody.  

A nation judged by how we treat our lowest citizens

President Barack Obama when meeting Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak recently said that “he shared with Mr Najib his ‘core belief’ that societies that respect civil rights will be more successful in the 21st century”.

The great Nelson Mandela once said, “No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest ones.”

What is happening here in Malaysia is our lowest citizens, yes some of them are crime suspects and criminals, are treated with the laws of the jungle. By Mandela’s standard, we have failed.

STEVEN SIM CHEE KEONG is Member of Parliament for Bukit Mertajam, national political education director, Dapsy Malaysia and state publicity secretary, Penang Dapsy.