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Scrap 'licensed gangster' image, Gerakan tells IGP

Gerakan is appalled at the rate detainees are dying in police custody in Penang, where five deaths have been recorded so far since the beginning of this year.
The party’s national legal and human rights bureau chief Baljit Singh said it is unfortunate that the police force have been tainted by a few bad apples when there are many policemen and policewomen working hard to sacrifice their safety and even their lives for the nation.

“Whether we like it or not, whether it is true or not, the public image of the police is very bad. I’ve seen messages on Facebook which describe the police as licensed gangsters. It is time inspector-general of police (IGP) Khalid Abu Bakar looks seriously into cases of custodial deaths,” he told Malaysiakini.

“The IGP should haul up all the bad apples and seriously act to get rid of them. He must also answer for all these cases of death. For example, please explain how the minority in Malaysia, who are Indians, become the majority in cases of custodial death?” Baljit, a lawyer by profession, queried.

 He was referring to the death of odd-job worker Murugan Muniandy, 37, at the Seberang Jaya Hospital on April 12. Murugan leaves behind a wife and three school-going children, who are living with his mother at the Teluk Indah flats in Prai.

 Murugan was arrested for suspected possession of drugs on March 31, and was detained at the Seberang Perai Tengah police headquarters in Bandar Perda before he was sent to the Bukit Mertajam Hospital on April 1.

 Five days later, he was transferred to the Seberang Jaya Hospital where he died, while his death certificate noted that his death was due to “severe sepsis secondary to pneumonia”.

Deputy Chief Minister II P Ramasamy, who highlighted the case at his service centre in Prai yesterday, demanded answers from state police chief Abdul Rahim Hanafi, and condemned the police for custodial deaths, saying the case often happens to the “poor, disadvantaged and marginalised” from all ethnic communities.

 When contacted, state CID chief SAC Mazlan Kesah said his department was in the midst of “checking” the matter.

 A photo taken of Murugan by a family acquaintance 10 days after his arrest (while he was in hospital) showed visible bruises on his chest, right shoulder, rib and thigh.

Since January this year, there have been five custodial death cases in Penang, including the cases of A Punniyatham, 40, on Feb 10 at the Nibong Tebal police station lock-up; Ramasamy Nagu, 50, on March 1 at the Bayan Baru police station lock-up; Kamarulnizam Ismail, 39, who died in Tapah Prison on March 8 after being detained at the Bandar Perda police lock-up; and Koay Soon Guan, 41, who died at the Penang Prison on April 6.

‘Police tasked with detainees’ safety’

Baljit said the police are directly responsible for deaths in their custody, as they are also tasked with the duty of the detainees’ safety.

“The police must explain how the bruises got onto Murugan’s body. There should not be any cover-up. I read that he was an alcoholic but drinking does not give one bruises,” Baljit said.

 Baljit also urged Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng to seriously take up the matter with the Penang CPO during his security council meeting with the police.

 He said the state should take a serious interest in the matter as custodial deaths also tarnish Penang’s image and damage the reputation of the police force.

Meanwhile, Bukit Mertajam MP Steven Sim said despite the police force clearly admitting the severity of the problem of custodial deaths, the situation has not improved.

 He cited the case of Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi introducing the centralised lock-up concept costing RM25 million with the objective to prevent further deaths in police custody.

“Today, it seems that legal instruments are used to deal with opposition politicians, while crime suspects are dealt with the law of the jungle,” Sim said in a statement today, referring to Murugan’s case.

“We have a system which is obsessed about making laws which deal with political dissent, and such a system is paralysed when it comes to dealing with actual criminals,” added the DAP Socialist Youth national political education director.

“Hence, criminals and crime suspects are dealt with using brute force and outdated or even anti-human rights practices. This must stop,” he stressed.

 He questioned why the government and IGP have still refused to implement the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) even though it was proposed by a royal commission setup by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, and chaired by a former Chief Justice, Mohd Dzaiddin Abdullah.

“Without an independent police investigative body, there is little check-and-balance in the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM), if at all,” he said.

“This allows constant intervention by the government into the force’s operation as revealed by former IGP Musa Hassan, and it will in turn create a culture of abuse of power within the force,” he added.