Fear of Covid-19 no excuse for delaying post-mortem

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We need to avoid congestion in cells and prisons - File photo: themalaymailonline

With deep regret, Eliminating Death and Abuse in Custody Together (Edict) notes the first known death in custody in Malaysia during the Covid-19 pandemic.

On 5 April the death of Jestus Kevin Ganapragasam, 30, was revealed by his father to Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram).

The police were reluctant to allow any member of the family to identify his body because they feared Jestus might be a victim of Covid-19.

After Suaram, the local state assembly member and others spoke with the police, they permitted two family members to identify his body – but by viewing his face only.

After Edict spoke with the family, Edict tweeted the death of Jestus. In response, Malaysiakini contacted the OCPD of Bentong for more details.

According to a report published in Malaysiakini, the OCPD said the police detained Jestus on suspicion of theft (no details).

The report adds that, according to the OCPD, on Sunday 5 April, at 12.50am (past midnight), Jestus was struggling to breathe. An ambulance was called. By the time it arrived, Jestus was dead. He was pronounced dead at 1.10am. The police have classified the case as “sudden death”.

Edict is shocked that the OCPD allegedly said a post-mortem will be performed only if it is confirmed that Jestus is not positive for Covid-19.

Edict reminds the police, pathologists, coroners and the attorney general that a Covid-19 positive body is “just another infected body”. No infection should be used as an excuse for not performing a post-mortem.

All pathologists performing post-mortems begin with the assumption that a corpse is infected. Post-mortems have been performed on Covid-19 infected bodies around the world. There is no reason why Malaysia should choose not to do a post-mortem on a body known to be infected, especially in a custodial death case.

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Edict further reminds them that the Criminal Procedure Code, in sSction 330, mandates that the police must arrange for a post-mortem to be performed. And, Section 331 mandates that the post-mortem must be performed “as soon as practicable”.

Choosing not to do a post-mortem is a contravention of the law.

Edict is concerned about other persons in the lock-up – detainees, police officers and other staff. The OCPD is reported to have said others who shared a cell with Jestus have been isolated, but is that adequate?

Edict calls upon the home minister and the health minister to send a team of experts to the lock-up to do an immediate, thorough investigation. All necessary measures must be taken to protect everyone in the loc-kup – and any persons they may have contact with.

The police are at the frontlines of implementing the movement control order. If any detainee tests positive for Covid-19, both police officers and their families will be put at greater risk of contracting Covid-19. This makes it especially important that suspects in cases of petty offences must not be detained in lock-ups.

Edict reminds Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin of a statement we issued on 18 March titled “Pandemic action is required in detention centres too”. Here we emphasise the first of five things we urged the minister to ensure:

First, establish stricter criteria about evidence which must be in hand before detaining anyone. This will reduce overcrowding of lock-ups.

We conclude with three questions:

  • Was it really necessary to hold Jestus in the lock-up after he was arrested?
  • Who else is in lock-ups but perhaps need not be there?
  • Why did the OCPD even suggest that a post-mortem might not be performed if the body of Jestus tests positive for Covid-19?
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Edict’s lawyers will assist the family through their ordeal. Throughout, Edict will pay close attention to the welfare of all who work in lock-ups.

We must all remain alert to areas which may be overlooked during this pandemic and tirelessly look out for each other.

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Santana
Santana
18 Apr 2020 11.53pm

Another Indian boy died in custody? There need to be a thorough investigation into the death.