Health Minister Urged to End Cover-Up of Custodial Deaths

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A human rights lawyer today urged Health Minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad to put an end to the cover-up of custodial deaths by pathologists.

Speaking at the launch of a report on custodial deaths, Fortify Rights legal director Eric Paulsen cited the cases of A Kugan, Karuna Nithi, C Sugumar and S Balamurugan.

In these four cases of custodial deaths, Paulsen said the pathologists had sought to cover up for the police despite subsequent post-mortems which indicated abuse by the police.

“Every time there is a death in custody, alarm bells must go off because a person is in detention of the state,” he said.

Paulsen was speaking at the launch of a Lawyers for Liberty report titled ‘Five faces: A story of police custodial deaths in Malaysia’.

“In these four cases, the pathologists erred heavily. The question is, why did they err?”

Paulsen spoke on the weakness of post-mortems conducted in cases of death in custody.

He said that medical staff in four out of the five cases in the report had fabricated official documents to hide evidence of abuse on the detainees by the police. Subsequent post-mortems indicated the involvement of the police.

He said in the “new Malaysia”, the health ministry must do “soul searching” and realise that its duty is to the patients and not the police.

“Dzulkelfy must put a stop to this. Speak to pathologists and get to the bottom of why, in previous cases, the pathologists were compelled to side with the police.”

He also called for a “shift in culture” in the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), saying it needs to facilitate the truth rather than act like a defence team for the police and pathologists in some custodial death cases.

More importantly, he said, the AGC must act on coroner decisions which implicate certain individuals in custodial deaths.

Another lawyer N Surendran said there was a “quid pro quo” between the police and the government, and that government pathologists were also part of efforts to hush up these cases.

“The quid pro quo between the two bodies was: you (the police) shall protect me (the government) from political dissent and I shall not enquire about you.

“Government pathologists defended police who were part of the same system and background,” the former Padang Serai MP from PKR said.

“This was prevalent in the Barisan Nasional era, but it must change quickly. It was seen as normal for various departments to help cover up for each other,” he said.

The Lawyers for Liberty report today highlighted five prominent custodial death cases and included a slew of recommendations for the government on preventing custodial deaths.

They include the setting up of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission, declassification of all police standard operating procedures on arrest, detention and medical treatment for detainees, as well as the installation of CCTVs at all police stations and lock-ups.

Some 284 detainees have died in police custody from 2000 to 2016.