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CCTV, bodycam recordings would shed light on custodial deaths

Malaysia yearns for a more trustworthy police force to restore and enhance public confidence in our police


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A review of bodycam and CCTV footage would help to prove the police’s innocence in the murder/killing of Muhammad Afis Ahmad.

At 12.30am on 28 January, Muhamad Afis was found unconscious in the lockup of Yan Police headquarters and was sent to the Yan Hospital. At 1.10am on the same day, he was pronounced dead.

He was arrested on 27 January 27 under Sections 379 and 170 of the Penal Code in connection with theft and impersonating a policeman.

Died due to blunt force trauma to the head

A post-mortem conducted the following day revealed that Muhammad Afis had died due to blunt force trauma to the head.

Kedah Police chief Hasanuddin Hassan reportedly said “during the arrest, the deceased had put up a struggle which caused him to suffer injuries to the face, ear and forehead”.

Probe should not be just to clear police of wrongdoings

The police chief said the investigation was to determine whether there were elements of violence, negligence or misconduct by police personnel as well as possibility of injury during the arrest. Statements from about 47 persons have already been recorded.

Malaysians Against Death Penalty (Madpet) is of the opinion that a murder investigation ought to be conducted, noting that the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head. If someone struck his head, and that ultimately caused the death, then that person could still be charged for murder or some killing offence.

There is a possibility that the blunt force trauma on the head that killed could have also been caused by some other parties – not the police. So, narrowly investigating only to ensure no police wrongdoing is just not right.

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As such, it is essential that it be a murder or killing crime investigation under the Penal Code. If it was a police officer who caused it, then ensure that the perpetrator is charged in court just like everyone else, and not simply dealt with quietly through some internal disciplinary action.

There is the possibility of another crime under Section 304A of the Penal Code for not getting a prompt inspection of the deceased by a medical professional – causing death by negligence

Injured or sick detainees must be given immediate medical check

After arrest, there were obvious injuries to the head of Muhammad Afis, and a relevant question was whether he was taken to the hospital for treatment and check-up or examined by a doctor. If this was done, there is a possibility that Muhammad Afis may still be alive today.

Immediate medical examination soon after arrest will also prevent unfounded accusations of police violence after arrest or while in police custody.

Investigations must be done by an independent coroner, not the police

In cases of death in police custody or death caused by police shooting, it is best that the investigations be conducted by the coroner or some other independent body.

Police investigating their fellow police officers, more so within the same police district or station, may lead to improper investigation and may not lead to justice.

We note that some earlier Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) inquiries into deaths in police custody have found police involvement in covering up the truth, including destroying and tampering with evidence.

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In the case of Syed Mohd Azlan Syed Mohamed Nur, for example, it was reported: The use of physical violence by police during arrest and questioning was the cause of Syed Mohd Azlan Syed Mohamed Nur’s 2014 death in custody, the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) said…. “There was an element of crime in the attacks involving common intent or abetment by PDRM officers, including the arresting team, to intentionally use physical violence on the deceased to cause death or injury,” the EAIC added.

The EAIC, in that inquiry, also said its investigations also found attempts to obscure evidence from the 25-year-old’s interrogation that resulted in 61 separate injuries on various parts of his body.

As such, as soon as a death happens in police custody or where police are suspected, the coroner, usually a magistrate, who is not a police officer, should lead the inquiry or investigation to reveal the truth and ensure that justice is done. Alternatively, it could be a deputy public prosecutor or the EAIC.

Love overdue: Bodycams and CCTVs that actually record

In September 2019, the then-Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the government was looking at equipping selected enforcement personnel with body cameras as part of its efforts to combat corruption and other alleged abuses of power.

In November 2020, in Parliament, Home Minister of the current government, Hamzah Zainuddin said the government would implement the proposal for the use of body cameras by police officers, amongst others to prevent the accusation and imputation brought against the security personnel while performing their duties.

In December, the Inspector General of Police Abdul Hamid Bador said that the police were in the process of acquiring bodycams for officers and also equipping all police cars with cameras.

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If the bodycams, vehicle cameras and CCTV with recording capacity are still not there, Madpet urges that it be made a priority, as this would certainly deter police from breaking the law or violating the rights of others.

Some Malaysian lock-ups do have CCTV, but alas when the recordings are needed as evidence for inquests, it was revealed that these CCTVs do not have recording capacity or that they were not working at the time.

What is needed are CCTV, bodycams and cameras on police vehicles that have recording capacity, where the recording is stored safely to prevent tampering or deletion by any police officer or station.

In some jurisdictions like Hong Kong, for the last few decades, CCTV recordings are there from the point of arrest and throughout the suspect’s stay in police facilities, and lawyers of suspects are given CDs of these recordings on request. Such good practice ensures that there is no abuse or wrongdoing by the police, that the law is complied with and that the arrested suspect is not denied any of his or her rights.

Malaysia yearns for a more trustworthy police force to restore and enhance public confidence in our police and the administration of criminal justice in Malaysia. We need police officers that will not hesitate to report, investigate or even charge a fellow police officer if he or she commits a crime.

Charles Hector released this statement on behalf of Madpet

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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loyal malaysian
loyal malaysian
12 Feb 2021 7.01am

One more death of a suspect in custody, and one more death too many!!
Charles, it will be great if the CCTV and bodycams proposals are implemented immediately.
But we know how the wheels of justice in our nation can grind all too slowly if it is a proposal not to its liking.
Sigh…we will just have to wait to see how many more deaths in custody the nation will go through before these proposals get implemented!!

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