End impunity for unlawful deaths in custody
15 February 2017
Malaysia: End impunity for unlawful deaths in custody
The Malaysian authorities must immediately order an independent and impartial investigation into the recent death of a 44 year old man in police custody and address the alarming number of deaths in detention and the lack of adequate investigations into possible human rights violations involved in such. At stake are two of the key human rights, which are non-derogable under international human rights law, namely the right to life and freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
On 6 February 2017, S Balamurugan was arrested with two of his friends for burglary. The following day, he was brought to court for a remand hearing. S Balamurungan’s lawyer stated in a police report that he could not walk and that he was bleeding severely from his mouth during his appearance in court. The presiding Magistrate rejected the police officers’ request to remand S Balamurugan in police custody and ordered that he be released and sent to a hospital for medical treatment.
However, the police appear to have failed to comply with the Magistrate’s orders. When his family went to the North Klang Police Station later that day to wait for his release, they were informed that S Balamurugan had been re-arrested. The day after, his family was informed that he had died. When his wife went to identify S Balamurugan’s body, they said that it was badly bruised and covered with blood, despite a post-mortem which stated that he had died from a heart attack.
An unlawful custodial death is a serious human rights violation. All deaths in custody must be promptly, independently and effectively investigated. Where there are grounds for believing that the cause of death was unlawful, and where sufficient, admissible evidence is found, suspected perpetrators, including those with command responsibility, must be prosecuted in fair trials.
Amnesty International calls on the Malaysian government to independently, impartially and effectively investigate the death of S Balamurugan, immediately suspend police officers allegedly involved in his death, and ensure that those suspected of responsibility are held to account.
Amnesty International has monitored other cases in Malaysia in which responsible authorities have not been held accountable for unlawful deaths in custody. For example, in 2013, N Dharmendran died from injuries sustained while in police custody. Despite photographs shared by the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) that showed severe injuries and bruising on his body, no one has yet been held to account for his death. This case and many others illustrate the apparent failure of Malaysian authorities to hold police officers and other government officials accountable for unlawful conduct and human rights violations.