Custodial deaths: Who killed N Dharmendran?

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

Both the police and the home ministry must take responsibility if through their action or inaction a death in custody occurs, says Prema Devaraj.

The recent decision of the Court of Appeal to order four police officers to enter their defence in the custody death case of 32year-old N Dharmendran is welcomed.

Inspector S Hare Krishnan, 42; Sargent Jaffri Jaafar, 46; Corporal Mohd Nahar Abd Rahman, 47; and Corporal Haswadi Zamri Shaari, 34 are jointly charged with the murder of N Dharmendran. They are accused of causing the death of Dharmendran, who had been detained at the serious crimes division (D9) interrogation room of the Kuala Lumpur police headquarters in Jalan Hang Tuah on 21 May 2013.

In December 2014, the High Court had acquitted these four men, ruling that the prosecution had failed to provide a motive and relied only on circumstantial evidence.

The legal counsel who held a watching brief on behalf of Dharmendran’s family had however described the investigations and prosecution of the case as “botched up” and had requested that the prosecution file an appeal.

More than a year later, the Court of Appeal panel, consisting of Justice Moktarudin Baki, Justice Zakaria Sam and Justice Abdul Karim Abdul Jalil, ruled there was a prima facie case, based on the overwhelming circumstantial evidence implicating the accused.

Justice Moktarudin found that the 52 injuries suffered by Dharmendran occurred while he was in custody of the four accused. He added that while the injuries individually may not have caused the death, cumulatively they could. The case has been fixed for mention on 2 March.

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The Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) have held a public inquiry into Dharmendran’s death.

According to a Bernama report in August last year, Kuala Lumpur CID Chief Zainuddin Ahmad, who testified as the 17th witness in the EAIC public hearing, reportedly said that no physical violence was used against Dharmendran, because policemen were strictly prohibited from using physical violence against any detainee during interrogation.

What is one to make of this, given that Dharmendran sustained injuries and died in police custody?

Again it must be reiterated: the basic rights of people in detention must be upheld irrespective of whether those detained have committed a crime or otherwise. Custodial deaths must be taken seriously and all investigations into such deaths must be thorough without any room for cover ups. All efforts to bring to account those responsible for such deaths must be made.

There can be no other way to approach this heinous violation of human rights if custodial deaths are to be stopped. Both the police and the home ministry must take responsibility if through their action or inaction a death in custody occurs. The culture of denial in cases of custodial deaths must end.

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