Deaths in police custody: Prosecute the culprits

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Aliran members were among those who protested outside the central lock-up in Bayan Baru on Mother's Day 2014

Almost a year ago, a media report was published about a 64-year-old welder from Pengerang, Johor, alleging that his 25-year-old son, Syed Mohd Azlan bin Syed Mohamed Nur, was killed in police custody and that no explanation had been given to him about his son’s death.

Aliran refers to a 30 October 2015 statement by the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) on their findings of their investigation into the death of this young man while in police custody.

According to the EAIC statement, Syed Mohd Azlan was arrested by a team of 13 police officers on 3 November 2014 at 3.30am as part of an investigation under Section 148 in the Penal code i.e., possessing weapons or missiles in a riot, based on a police report made against him. He was taken to Sungai Rengit Police Station in Pengerang, Johor for questioning.

A few hours later, at about 7am, while he was being taken to the district police headquarters in Kota Tinggi for a remand application, pending investigation under S148 of the Penal Code, Syed Mohd Azlan was found to be unresponsive and weak.

He was taken to a nearby health clinic where he was checked by a doctor at about 8.30am and certified dead. A police report was subsequently made by the head of the arresting team at about 10am the same day.

Following the EAIC statement, a post mortem conducted the following day determined the cause of death as blunt force trauma to the chest. The medical examination reportedly showed that the deceased had 61 injuries (cuts, bruising, scratches) on his face, body and on both his legs.

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Some of the injuries were said to be consistent with defence wounds as the deceased tried to defend himself against the brutality inflicted on him. The use of non-standard-issue police handcuffs also caused hurt to the wrists of the deceased.

The EAIC states clearly that their findings show that the death of Syed Mohd Azlan was connected with the use of physical force by the police who arrested and questioned him.

The EAIC also states that there was tampering of evidence by the police including:

  • the cleaning up the incident area before it was visited and examined,
  • disposal of a rubber mat and carpet at the place of arrest which was believed to have blood stains of the deceased, and
  • hiding or removal of eye witnesses to the incident.

Furthermore the EAIC found a serious breach of the police standard operating procedures (e.g. on arrests and handling of suspects as well as on discovery and seizure).

The EAIC also noted abetment of a criminal nature by the arresting officers in physically brutalising Syed Mohd Azlan which resulted in his injury and death.

The EAIC have found the police not only culpable in a man’s death but also the occurrence of severe breaches in police protocols and attempts to cover up the wrongdoing.

The Malaysian public should be utterly horrified that, during an investigation into possession of weapons (which incidentally were never found), a young man was subjected to a horrific beating which resulted in his death. Such violence is inexcusable and unacceptable.

This is not the first time such a thing has happened and one wonders what it would take to make the government take the issue of deaths in custody seriously.

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Given the findings from the EAIC, Aliran strongly urges:

  • the attorney general to take swift action and identify, charge and prosecute the police officers involved in the unlawful killing of Syed Mohd Azlan.
  • that Syed Mohd Azlan’s family be compensated for their loss although it will never bring him back
  • the Home Minister to take steps to implement the EAIC recommendations, which include police refresher training on arrests, the tightening and monitoring of SOPs, a ban on the use of non-standard-issue equipment during arrests, and research into the suitability of amending the Penal Code and Evidence Act 1950 to place the presumption of guilt on those who are responsible for detainees until proven otherwise, in death- and injury-in-custody cases.

Dr Prema Devaraj
Aliran executive committee member
3 November 2015

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