Together with the DAP for Klang, Charles Santiago, I visited Natthanan Yoochomsook, the widow of the latest police custodial death, S. Balamurugan, 44 and his 14-year-old daughter Yanika Balamurugan at their house at Solok Bukit Mertajam off Jalan Kapar in Klang.
As Charles said, quoting Suhakam, Balamurugan is the 243rd death in police custody since 2000.
This is most shocking and outrageous, as 12 years ago, a Royal Commission was established to end criminal police custodial deaths and to create in the police force a culture of zero tolerance for criminal police custodial deaths.
But the situation has not improved and may have even worsened when compared to more than 12 years ago.
What has happened?
Why are we regressing instead of improving in good governance, accountability and transparency in all aspects of our public institutions?
Balamurugam’s death in police custody, and the latest case of official impunity for breach of the rule of law and the utter disregard for the sanctity of human life in the case of Penang prison inmate Chandran Muniandy, who nearly met death from his treatment in prison, must be the final cases of a broken-down criminal and penal system.
The Police system is undergoing a critical test whether it could ensure justice in the criminal police custodial death of Balamurugan and ensure that there will be no other criminal police custodial deaths in the country – or whether only a change of government in the 14th General Election is the only way and guarantee to effect such a change.
The Home Minister and the Inspector-General of Police should re-read the “Report of the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysian Police”, set up in the early months of the premiership of Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, in particular, Section 2.10 of chapter 10 of the Police Royal Commission Report on “Recommendation Ten: Conduct Inquiries into all cases of custodial deaths and make the process more expeditious, transparent and accountable”.
The Royal Commission found that “current provisions for inquiry into deaths in police custody in the CPC are not sufficiently rigorous and do not provide for a transparent and accountable process”.
It said: “The number of deaths in custody, amounting to 80 deaths in the period 2000-2004, is a serious cause for concern. Of even greater concern also is the fact that the inquests were only held for 6 of the 80 deaths, when s334 of the CPC makes it mandatory for the Magistrate to conduct an inquest. Even if there were no foul play, the fact that the deaths occurred in police custody, sometimes in circumstances that give legitimate cause for suspicion, makes it imperative that inquests are held expeditiously and in a transparent and accountable manner in each and every case. Post mortems that establish the cause of death are not sufficient. What is necessary also is the manner in which death occurred.”
The Royal Commission also proposed the establishment of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission” (IPCMC) to investigate into complaints about police wrongdoings, reduce police misconduct and corruption and restore public confidence in the police.
The Police objected to the IPCMC and only the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) was formed, which had proved to be a poor substitute, as the EAIC had not gained confidence whether by the police or the Malaysian public.
The recent outrageous cases of Balamurugan and Chandran have brought back to the fore the need for implementation of the IPCMC proposal of the Police Royal Commission – and this should be the first task of the Home Minister in the March meeting of Parliament.
Zahid should propose the establishment of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) in March Parliament to end criminal police custodial deaths as the EAIC is just a toothless creature.
I propose to meet the Home Minister, Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi, the Inspector-general of Police Tan Sri Abu Bakar Khalid, Suhakam and EAIC this month on the completely unacceptable state of police custodial deaths in the country.