On 5 March 2020 Kajang Prison inmate Muhammad Sapria, an Indonesian national, died while in custody. Eliminating Deaths and Abuse in Custody Together (Edict) learned that on 10 March 2020, the Shah Alam coroner formally informed the prison authorities that until a sudden death report is lodged in the Coroner’s Court, a coroner cannot direct any medical officer to conduct a post-mortem on the deceased person.
Edict is surprised that the coroner did not order the police to file a sudden death report.
Edict is further surprised that the coroner chose to adopt a narrow interpretation of the applicable law – Section 335(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) and Section 7.4 of the chief justice’s Current Practice Directive on handling of Sudden Death Reports. We say so for the following reasons:
First, even if it is true that Muhammad Sapria died after a stay of several days in a hospital and even if it is true that he suffered from an infectious disease and was being treated for it, the fact is he died in custody.
Second, over the past decade, there have been a slew of reported cases in which Malaysian courts have decided that deaths in custody were due to “unlawful acts or omissions” on the part of jailers, sometimes with the collusion of doctors.
Third, since there has been no concerted national programme to take actions to detect, curb or punish such unlawful acts or omissions, a cloud of doubt hangs over any death in custody, no matter what the police or doctors claim.
Fourth, the cloud of doubt requires that every provision of the law must be exercised to verify the actual cause of death of any detainee.
Fifth, Section 330 of the Criminal Procedure Code is clear. Unless the cause of death is “by accident”, the (police) investigating officer must “send the body to the nearest Government hospital or other convenient place for the holding of a post-mortem examination”.
Sixth, the Criminal Procedure Code puts such a premium on post-mortems that Section 335(2) even gives the coroner authority to order the exhumation of a body for a post-mortem.
Edict has learned that one of the reasons given for not performing a post-mortem on Muhammad Sapria is that he suffered from an infectious disease. Edict believes this is a ridiculous reason, since autopsies are commonly performed on bodies which have been wreaked with infectious diseases.
Edict further believes that the deaths of detainees who suffer from infectious diseases should be thoroughly investigated, including through determination of cause of death by a pathologist. This step is necessary to identify and prevent the spread of diseases to detainees, jailers and visitors.
Based on the foregoing facts, Edict demands that the law be observed in respect of Muhammad Sapria and that plans to return his body to Indonesia be deferred until a post-mortem is performed.
12 March 2020