Six civil society organisations – the Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy, Eliminating Deaths in Custody Together (Edict), Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), the civil rights committee of the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH) and North-South Initiative – will launch a campaign against torture and deaths in custody at 8.30pm on Saturday, 16 July at the MCPA hall of the KLSCAH.
The torture and deaths of those in the custody of law enforcement agencies have been contentious issues in Malaysia for the past 15 years. In its statement dated 16 June 2010, the UN working group on arbitrary detention revealed that from 2003 to 2007, 1,535 people died while in the custody of prisons, rehabilitation centres and detention centres. During the same period, 85 people lost their lives while in police custody.
For its part, the Malaysian human rights commission, Suhakam, reported on 23 October 2021 that there were 456 custodial deaths in 2020. Of these, 363 occurred in prisons, 50 at immigration detention centres, 34 at police lock-ups (cells), and nine at the National Anti-Drugs Agency.
Some had been tortured and killed. Others died after being denied essential medicine or treatment. The rest succumbed to unnatural injuries to their bodies. Since 2020, deaths in custody have continued unabated. It is tragic that a majority of cases still go unreported, and there has been no adhering to a proper inquest process.
For the bereaved families, it is still a long, long wait to see justice done for their loved ones. When, for instance, will there finally be justice for Teoh Beng Hock, for Kamarulnizam, for Syed Mohd Azlan, for Benedict Thanilas and for Pakistani refugee Rafi Ullah?
True, some civil suit cases have been won, but the perpetrators have not yet been brought to justice. They continue to walk free because the culture of impunity is very much alive in our society. Unless this is brought to an end with political will, justice cannot prevail!
Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin’s recent appalling statement – that anyone can die anywhere – shows his utter ignorance of the human rights violations being committed by law enforcement officers, most of whom are under the purview of his ministry.
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Given the ignorance and lack of will to pursue perpetrators relentlessly and to entrench fair justice, it comes as no surprise that for the past 15 years, very limited institutional reforms have been carried out to address widespread torture and deaths in custody. The coroners’ court, for one, is not specifically focussed on deaths in custody. Neither does the Criminal Procedure Code cover all types of custody that are under the purview of our law enforcement agencies.
Furthermore, some families have accused the law enforcement agencies of denying detainees their right to have access to medicine. Hence, it is crucial that the Lock-up Rules 1953 be updated to ensure detainees their right to medicine and medical treatments, in compliance with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
Suhakam, for its part, has called for an increase in the financial budget for improving health services in detention centres and for the setting up of a custodial health unit.
We are very much aware that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act allows its enforcement officers to summon persons to testify from day to day, virtually giving the MACC uncontrolled power to interrogate a person indefinitely. It is evident that unbridled interrogations on the part of MACC officers have led to deaths, physical and psychological torture, and degrading and inhuman treatment.
Without comprehensive human rights training for law enforcement agency officers, torture and deaths in custody will never stop. What is needed is a team of professional and well-trained enforcement officers who uphold human rights and who will treat detainees as persons with dignity and rights, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, social status or criminal records.
For those from vulnerable communities, such as refugees and migrant workers, the government must ensure they have access to their family, social workers, and lawyers while in detention.
The campaign’s five demands
Our five demands in this campaign against torture and deaths in custody are as follows:
- Conduct mandatory inquests for all deaths in custody
Section 334 of the Criminal Procedure Code (inquest proceedings) should be amended to make it mandatory for inquests to be conducted into all custodial deaths that occur in all detention, correctional and rehabilitation centres of all government agencies.
- Enact a ‘coroners court act’
An act to establish the coroners’ court to specifically deal with all custodial deaths should be enacted to ensure there is integrity, accountability and transparency in all investigations and public reporting of outcomes. This is imperative for justice to be served and for restoring public confidence in the processes, systems and institutions involved.
- Uphold detainees’ right of access to medical and healthcare services – The Lockup Rules 1953 should be revised to protect detainees’ right of access to medicine and healthcare services. Detainees with poor health records or chronic diseases should be placed under designated in-house medical facilities at centres.
- Stop prolonged interrogation and torture – No detainee should be subjected to long hours of interrogation or ill-treatment ,which includes physical assault, psychological abuse, inhuman detention conditions and restraints. All agencies must conduct interrogation only between 9am and 6pm.
- Provide mandatory human rights training for officers – All officers of the police, the MACC, the Prisons Department, the Immigration Department and other government agencies directly involved in policing and enforcement work must first attend and pass a compulsory human rights training and certification programme.
We cordially invite members of the public to join us on Saturday, 16 July at the KLSCAH for the launch of the campaign against torture and deaths in custody.
In conjunction with the launch of the campaign, the co-organisers will also pay tribute to senior social activist Haris Ibrahim, who has been wholeheartedly supporting a number of social movements fighting against deaths in custody. We highly appreciate his contribution to these movements.
Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy
Eliminating Deaths in Custody Together (Edict)
Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)
Civil rights committee of KLSCAH