Campaign Writings

These 5 people died in custody. And they’re not the only ones. #ZeroBrutality

In just 4 years, almost 250 people have died while in police custody. Here’s what happened.

by Nivetha Sri Shanker & Allyna Ng

In just 4 years, almost 250 people have died while in police custody. Here’s what happened:

#1 S. Bala Murugan (44 years old)

Bala’s daughter, Yanika, 14 holds up the police report with her mother.

Photo from: The Malay Mail, e-paper,  ‘Family Claims Police Brutality in Custodial Death’

While in court, Bala began bleeding severely from his mouth and vomiting blood. The judge ordered police to release him to receive medical treatment or be rushed to the hospital.

Yet mere hours later, he was found dead in his cell.

It turns out that police officers defied the judge’s order and brought him into custody instead. There was no record of this arrest, but Bala’s lawyer, Mr Gerard Lazarus claimed that he sustained severe injuries from being beaten in detention.

The evidence: His body had a large bruise on the chest and wounds on the shoulder as if scalded with hot water among other bruises and scratches. Multiple blunt force injuries to various parts of the body including the chest, head, legs and back triggered heart failure.

Inspector T. Mohaneswaran has been charged for intentionally causing hurt. The case remains ongoing in the magistrate’s court.

#2 N. Dharmendran (32 years old)

Dharmendran complained of chest pains while he was locked up and collapsed at around 4.25pm on May 21 2016. He was pronounced dead on arrival after being immediately sent to the Hospital Kuala Lumpur.

Source: The Malay Mail Online, ‘EAIC: Cops tortured Dharmendran by stapling ears moments before death’

What the police say: death due to asthma/heart attack. He was complaining of chest pains before being brought to Hospital Kuala Lumpur where he was declared dead.
Following investigation, Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) found police misconduct to which the chairman of EAIC said:

The commission is of the view that with the short period of remand left (in this case the deceased’s remand was due to expire in two days’ time) has placed the Project Team in the ‘last ditch’ situation in obtaining information from the deceased, resulted to the use of force on the deceased.’

Read: EAIC’s Investigation Findings on N. Dharmendran’s Death in Police Custody

Excessive physical force triggered “massive loss of blood”, sending him into “hypovolemic shock.” Within 10 days, N Dharmendran went from an apparently healthy state to becoming disfigured.

Dharmendran sustained 52 bruises on his body. These included staple wounds on his ears.

4 policemen were charged but were later acquitted.

#3 M.Thanaseelan (43 years old)

Another case within the first quarter of 2017 (!!!)

Complaining of stomach pains, Thanaseelan was treated at Hospital Kuala Kubu Bharu.

But after being brought back into custody, he was found….dead. In his cell. Sound familiar?

What the post-mortem showed: He died of a perforated gastric ulcer.

Source: Free Malaysia Today, ‘Deaths in custody: Widow wants action against hospital, doc’

According to Eric and the deceased’s family, Thanaseelan had already been having gastric problems before he was picked up by the police.

Hence he should not have been locked up as police lock-up rules provide for situations where a detainee may not be fit for further detention (read: they shouldn’t lock you up if you’re sick or just generally not fit to be locked up).

So why was Thanaseelan brought back into custody? Could negligence have been involved?

#4 A. Kugan (22 years old)

Kugan died in the Taipan, USJ police station lock-up five days after he had been arrested in 2009. Post-mortem results revealed that the cause of death was rhabdomyolysis—skeletal muscle damage resulting in acute kidney failure. The cause of the kidney failure? Blunt force trauma.

45 external injuries and a wide range of internal injuries were also found.

What sensationalised Kugan’s case was the response of our former IGP, Khalid Abu Bakar who gave varying statements as to the real cause of death, also suggesting that  the injuries on his body may have been later inflicted after the body was release, his non-compliance to the AG’s orders to classify the case as murder (classifying it as hurt instead)  and his lack of direction for a formal departmental inquiry given the nature of victim’s injuries.

In 2013, the High Court decided that policeman Navindran was liable for Kugan’s death in custody and ordered the former policeman to pay the entirety of the awarded damages. Later in 2014, the Court of Appeal upheld the ruling = that a former constable, the police force and the government are liable for the death of A. Kugan, setting aside compensation for Kugan’s family for false imprisonment, misfeasance of public office, assault and battery, loss of support, funeral expenses and pain and suffering. Exemplary damages was also awarded by the court.

Source: Free Malaysia Today, ‘Apex court rules out exemplary damages for death in lock-up cases’

However, in 2017 the Federal Court ruled that no exemplary damages shall be awarded to family members of individuals who die in custody as a result of police action according to Section 8(2) of the Civil Law Act 1956.

Read: Datuk Seri Khalid bin Abu Bakar & 3 Lagi v N. Indra a/p Nallathamby

Latest development: V. Navindran was ordered to serve three years’ jail after his appeal against his conviction for the custodial death was rejected yesterday.

#5 M. Krishnan (37 years old)

Brace yourselves.

Krishnan, father of six, was found dead in police lock-up.

This is what his jailmate had to say:

“Policemen with boots jumped on his back until he became weak. When they started kicking him in the chest and stomach, he started vomiting.

“After that almost everyday Krishnan pleaded with the police for medical treatment but was denied help.

“Even the day before he died the police beat him again for seeking treatment,”

His family members were forced to go to court in order to obtain a second post-mortem. They were also harassed by the hospital – his wife was directed to take the body home or pay RM30 a day for storage.

Plot twist:
Post-mortem results showed the death was due to gastric ulcer – his family do not believe this.

“This is just like A Kugan’s case. We’ve had so many cases where the hospital is working with the police to cover up.” 

N. Surendran, the family’s lawyer, and member of NGO Lawyers for Liberty


So what do you think of police brutality? Serious or not serious? Real or not real?

We think police abuse of powers is under-reported and reflective of the systemic problems of corruption and poor accountability in Malaysia. From these cases, we can infer that:

  1. Rights of accused persons must be respected. This bundle of rights include the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, right to counsel and right to silence. The treatment of accused persons (upon arrest up until trial) should correspond with their innocence. Article 5 (1) and 8 (1) of the Federal Constitution expressly provide that ‘no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty save in accordance with law’ and that ‘all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law’. Arrests must be done in accordance with due process and respect for the fundamental liberties accorded to a person. The use of force should never be justified to extract information from accused persons.
  2. Hospitals must be vigilant towards mistreatment or abuse of detainees. Since medical officers and doctors are the first points of contact for detainees outside of police custody, they should be playing a more active role of drawing attention or detecting suspicious injuries on detainees. Read what this lawyer has to say about the role of pathologist in detecting abuse of detainees.
  3. A niche or specialized oversight body may be needed to scrutinise policing better. Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) and SUHAKAM provide good oversight over enforcement agencies but their scope of oversight is very wide and not just limited to the police force. According to reports, complaints against the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) made up the highest number for EAIC at 1,344. EAIC also oversee agencies such as the Immigration Department, Road Transport Department, Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry , Customs Department and National Registration Department.

Police system itself must place aside vested interests in favour of reform through internal investigations and stricter control of powers. We should strive towards a more transparent, accountable and integrous police system.

Check out more facts and statistics regarding the #ZeroBrutality campaign on our Facebook page!

Also look out for our next series of cases coming soon!

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