Special Report

Silence shrouds Malay deaths in lock-ups

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This is a part of Malaysiakini's special feature on deaths in police custody. For the full story, visit this link.

SPECIAL REPORT | S Balamurugan, P Karuna Nithi, N Dharmendran – these are some of the people who made headlines when they perished in police custody before they had their day in court.

Stereotypically, Indian Malaysians are often portrayed as the most vulnerable while in police detention.

An analysis by Malaysiakini based on data collected by human rights group Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) shows that the majority of deaths in police custody reported in the media and to Suaram feature Indians.

Read more: What to do if you get arrested, and how to deal with police

However, the same analysis has found that there is massive underreporting of deaths in police custody in the media, particularly those involving Malays.

Overall, there were 257 deaths in police custody between 2002 and 2016, according to official statistics provided by the Home Ministry in a parliamentary reply on March 28, 2017.

However, Suaram said it only received reports of 62 of these cases, all of which were reported in the media. 

This means that only about one in four cases of deaths in police custody become public knowledge, while the rest go largely unnoticed.


Reasons for underreporting

The lack of overall publicity for deaths in police custody can be attributed to a number of factors.

Commissioner Jerald Joseph of the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) explained that both Suaram and Suhakam typically receive reports of deaths in police custody when family members sound the alarm by reporting to either organisation or to the media.

One possible cause of underreporting is a victim’s lack of contactable family members. “Some of them don’t have any family members… if nobody is there to be the voice, then who is going to check on that (the victim’s death)?” Joseph said.

He also said many people could be unaware of what could be done to further investigate a death in police custody and which organisations to reach out to for help.

"There is a group of people who do not know the likes of Suaram or NGOs or Suhakam, or EAIC (the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission) for that matter. There is a group of Malaysians who do not know we exist, and that’s a given...

Read the full story, click this link.