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Death by detention

Image of an interrogation room: a single chair in a darkened space

(Pic by pmdash /

THE Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) Youth refers to the articles, commentaries, joint statements and various public responses recounting the shocking death of a Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) witness, Teoh Beng Hock, under dubious circumstances.

This tragedy yet again adds another nauseating leaf to our country’s lack of a credible and transparent system of integrity against a track record of mistreatment of suspects and dubious deaths under detention. What makes this more disturbing is that this is the first case of a witness dying under questioning.

The primary concern is the clear lack of oversight. This is a shameful symptom of the nation’s ingrained and persistent lack of political will to revamp clear violations of basic human rights by enforcers of the law and those in authority.

The critical issue is not one of “Who’s next?” but “Who’s before?” Teoh is but the latest of a growing list of deaths under detention or custody or police action: A Kugan, Samiyati Indrayani Zulkarnain Putra, Francis Udayappan, Dr Tai Eng Teck (the police officer was eventually convicted), V Vikines, Tharma Rajan, M Ragupathy, Syed Fadzil Syed Ibrahim, Hasrizal Hamzah, Prakash Moses, Kannan Kanthan, Ahmad Salleh, Ulaganathan Muniandy,  Vivashanu Pilai, Ho Kwai See, Ravichandran Ramayah, Veerasamy Gopal and L Yoges Rao.

These are just a few of the more celebrated deaths out of the untold numbers who have died under police action (or inaction). Do we still remember these names? Or have they been neatly filed and forgotten?

What of the deaths of undocumented migrants or detainees in rural police stations that we don’t hear about in the media? Former Deputy Home Minister Wan Fairuz Wan Salleh reported in Parliament that a staggering 1,531 people had died in custody in the four years between 2003 and 2007. According to Suhakam, 1,300 foreign migrants died in detention centres over the past six years. These statistics are damaging, and damning.

Image of a toothless tiger

(Pic by vierdrie /

We need to move beyond a call for yet another royal commission of inquiry. We are jaded by the setting up of panels and commissions that are unable to bring about meaningful counter measures. We are saddened that nothing concrete has been done despite countless recommendations by generations of “toothless tigers”.

We need a working public system to track such deaths. Witnesses and detainees should have the right to immediate legal representation. Standard operating procedures for the protection of witnesses should be made available to the public — remove the veil of secrecy.

Violations by enforcers of the law, whose role is to protect, not harm, should be swiftly dealt with. So what if we have CCTVs? The tapes can be easily erased or tampered with unless a system of checks is in place to protect the integrity of evidence. Evidence collection and forensics intervention must be immediate and timely. We must remove any conflict of interest in investigations of public interest.

We are a grieving nation today. The government has failed repeatedly to enact meaningful and honest reform of the enforcement community; that is, the police, Rela and prison system — and the prospects are depressing, to say the least.

We thank the public, non-governmental organisations and media for keeping such issues alive, and urge politicians not to milk Teoh’s death for their own agenda.

We call upon Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan to ensure that he leaves no stone unturned in these investigations and to honestly reveal the findings, without conspiring to hide the truth from the rakyat, to whom the police are accountable.

We call upon our new home minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, to take leadership and act swiftly and courageously. The government urgently needs to bring the detention system up to basic standards of decency and fairness. We need to lift the veil on interrogation centres, migrant detention centres, police jails, and hold all heads of departments fully accountable for all misdemeanours by their officers. And that includes the MACC.

We demand automatic inquiries upon death whether by police action, or inaction. We need to implement and re-design an enforceable and just system with the highest standards of accountability and transparency. The home minister’s planned review of 33 Acts would not be meaningful to the rakyat if there is no justice or if we are unable to trust the very authorities who are supposed to enforce them.

We believe that Teoh and the countless others who died before him, did not die in vain.  We look to our home minister to restore the rakyat’s faith in the authorities whose duties are to protect them.

Image of a lifeless hand in handcuffs

(Pic by Mark Coggins /

The first tenet of the Rukunegara — “Kepercayaan kepada Tuhan” — bears no meaning if we do not come before God in national mourning and repentance. Failure to answer for wrongdoings puts us into condemnation from the almighty God.

The rakyat is counting on our prime minister to ensure that justice will prevail in this nation for all communities. It is our hope and prayer that justice will prevail in this matter; that those who are responsible be identified, convicted and punished.

Our prime minister must be seen to exercise an even hand in his fight against corruption — if the MACC is so short-handed, then priority must be placed on catching the big sharks like political leaders with assets beyond their means or leaders who have misappropriated public funds in the name of welfare for their personal use or entertainment. To try to distract the rakyat with investigations involving small amounts of a couple of thousand ringgit is an insult to the rakyat’s intelligence.

May God deal justly and severely with those who do not fear [God], and those who are intent on suppressing the truth.

Daniel Chai
Council of Churches of Malaysia Youth

21 July 2009

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One Response to “Death by detention”

  1. Rajesh Taluar says:

    MACC: Mana Ada Credible Cross-examiners?

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