Home Civil Society Voices Government must take immediate action on spate of custodial deaths

Government must take immediate action on spate of custodial deaths

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We refer to the news reports regarding the death of a detainee, Umar Faruq Abdullah, at the Klang Police headquarters on 3 June 2021.

This is the fourth custodial death in recent weeks, an alarming trend that calls for immediate action by the government. Unfortunately, the government, specifically the home minister, has failed to provide concrete explanations or take any immediate action to stem the mounting numbers of death in custody.

The police cannot be relied upon to investigate these deaths on their own, as there is a clear conflict of interest that would cast doubt on the integrity of their investigations. In fact, the police have traditionally been very defensive when it comes to custodial deaths, issuing statements denying responsibility even before investigations are concluded and even threatening the public for commenting on the issue. An example is the warning issued by the Gombak police chief after the death of Ganapathy that those who speculate on the death will be called for questioning.

The time for an independent oversight body to monitor the police is long overdue, and this discussion is not complete without reference to the establishment of an independent police complaints of misconduct commission (IPCMC). We strongly urge the government to revisit the now-scrapped IPCMC Bill 2019 and reconsider bringing it into force. With the emergency in place, the government has the power to bring the IPCMC Bill 2019 in the form of an ordinance for its immediate implementation.

It must be an effective bill, the powers of the IPCMC must not be diluted; it must be able to freely investigate and take necessary actions regarding their finding against any officers found guilty of misconduct or unlawful actions. Independent and impartial investigations will mean fairness to both the victims as well as the police force.

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There is no time to waste. The government must take all necessary steps to ensure the elimination of custodial deaths and the ability to take decisive action if it does occur. The integrity of the justice system is at stake and the longer the government delays this, the number of custodial deaths may continue to increase.

Zaid Malek is coordinator of Lawyers for Liberty

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