On 10 January, at the end of the inquest into the police shooting death of Kathir Oli, the coroner delivered an open verdict. In essence, it meant no one was found to have to answer for his death.
It was a great disappointment to family, friends and concerned members of the public. It failed to offer closure to his family, who had waited about 10 years for an inquest to be called to clear the name of the son they had lost.
Kathir Oli was shot dead after midnight on 15 September 2011. He and his friends had gone to a pub in Ipoh for a drink but were denied entry. This led to a brawl; glasses were thrown and the pub door was broken before both sides withdrew.
Following the then Perak Police chief’s press conference in the morning, less than 12 hours after the shooting, the media sensationally splashed reports of an armed robbery with parangs (machetes) at a pub; of an injured detective who had to shoot and kill in self-defence; and of three accomplices who had been arrested and remanded on charges of attempted murder.
In a letter to the Perak Police chief a month after the incident, Kathir Oli’s wife Janaki contested each of the claims, saying his statement smacked of a cover-up of abuse of police powers.
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In the 11 years after the incident, as the matter was heard first at the High Court and then at the inquest, much of the story told by the police began to unravel and turn out to be either pure fiction or claims unsubstantiated by sufficient evidence.
In fact, many of the claims were demolished by the storytellers themselves through their own affidavits, witness statements and court documents that exposed shoddy investigations, incompetence, contradictions and abuse of power.
Was there a robbery at the pub? In her grounds of judgment, the coroner said there was insufficient evidence to prove there was a robbery. The pub owner had made a police report and statements had been taken from several witnesses from the pub. If conclusive evidence of robbery could not be gleaned from these, then, to the layperson, there was no robbery. Besides, no charge of robbery was ever made after the incident.
Did Kathir Oli and friends wield parangs? No, according to the testimony of Ipoh Criminal Investigation Division officers, no parangs were found at the scene of the incident.
Was there an attempt to murder the policeman – attempted murder? That was the charge under which Kathir Oli’s three friends were arrested and remanded after the shooting. But the charge was obviously not tenable and too farfetched for the police themselves, as became evident when they released the three men on police bail and then freed them.
Did Detective Cheah Yew Teik shoot in self-defence? The coroner in her grounds of judgment said he was performing his duty as a police officer in an attempt to stop a criminal act in the pub and on himself.
Kathir Oli’s family and friends ask what criminal act warranted shooting to kill by the police? Was there an immediate and present danger to his life, for surely that must be the circumstance under which you shoot someone point blank on the left side of his chest?
Family counsel M Puravalen submitted that Kathir Oli and two friends, Shashi and Sanger were inside their parked car, about to leave, when suddenly Cheah in plainclothes and unidentified, appeared pointing a gun from behind the car, ordering them to stop.
Kathir Oli and Shashi alighted and a scuffle ensued. Cheah was armed, Kathir Oli and Shashi were not. Cheah shot Kathir Oli, walked to his car to get handcuffs and then handcuffed Kathir Oli’s friends.
Family counsel further submitted that in a situation of danger to one’s life, one should retreat, move away and not further inflame the situation. Also, it was not a situation of Kathir Oli resisting arrest. To the layperson, the claim of self-defence in this case defies common sense.
These inconsistencies would not have come to light if the family had not challenged the refusal by the state director of prosecutions to initiate an inquest.
Perhaps that was the reason behind the continued denial of an inquest, but when pressured by actions that challenged the police story – police reports by Shashi and friends after their release, a Suhakam complaint by the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) who were assisting the family, letters to the Prosecutions Department by Lawyerss for Liberty, and candlelight protests – the prosecutions director came up with a baffling justification for his stand.
He said that other individuals were going to be charged under the Penal Code in connection with the death and so, as the law allowed, an inquest would not be needed. The charges included causing mischief and voluntarily causing hurt to deter a public servant from doing his duty.
How could these charges be linked to the death of Kathir Oli? One of the three men who had been remanded was charged and fined RM5,000, but the question remained: Why was Kathir Oli shot dead?
Kathir Oli’s brother, represented by M Puravalen challenged the no inquest decision at the High Court in July 2020 and it was subsequently overturned. The High Court ordered the investigation papers to be forwarded to the magistrate to decide if an inquest was warranted. The magistrate decided it was.
Now with the open verdict declared at this hard-fought-for inquest, the quest for justice for Kathir Oli and the many forgotten victims of police brutality and abuse of power is set to continue. The verdict will be appealed.