KUALA LUMPUR: An asylum seeker died nine hours after he set himself ablaze in front of stunned onlookers outside a United Nations refugee agency here yesterday.
Fifty-year-old Gulam Hassan Anwari, who claimed to be an Iranian, torched himself in a desperate bid to draw attention to his failed business dealings, minutes after getting out of a taxi at the office of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Jalan Bukit Petaling at about 11.10am.
He was rushed in an ambulance to the Kuala Lumpur Hospital where he was placed under a life support system at the intensive care unit. He died at 8.30pm.
Gulam had thrown a handwritten four-page letter at the feet of several reporters outside the UNHCR office soon after his arrival there, accompanied by an unidentified woman.
He then casually flicked a cigarette lighter to the hem of his short-sleeved shirt. His petrol-doused body immediately went up in flames.
As he wailed in pain and staggered towards the entrance, he howled out words that sounded like “Bunuh, bunuh orang bohong (Kill, kill the cheats).”
Gulam had repeatedly called the media over the past 48 hours about his plan for self-immolation and the press had also alerted the police about his threat.
A patrol car passed by the place about 20 minutes before the incident but Brickfields deputy OCPD Supt Kuzi Minai said they could not pick out Gulam from the crowd because they had no description of him.
Gulam, who claimed to be from Baluchistan, on the Iran-Pakistan border, said in his letter that he came to Malaysia on a Pakistani passport in 2001.
He said he wanted to end his life because he had been ill-treated and cheated by two foreign businessmen.
He said he was also utterly disappointed after his application to obtain refugee status was rejected by the UNHCR.
As Gulam torched himself, the shocked crowd of some 20 to 30 people stood rooted at the spot, and the young woman who had accompanied him became hysterical. Guards at the place quickly alerted UNHCR staff.
A taxi driver waiting for passengers nearby rushed to get a fire extinguisher from his car to douse the burning body while UNHCR staff brought out a blanket to cover him. They also helped him to a drink from a bottle and a chair for him to sit on.
One reporter called the police while the others stopped an ambulance team from Kuala Lumpur Hospital that was on its way to the nearby Istana Negara for standby duty.
UNHCR protection officer Shinji Kubo said they interviewed Gulam two years ago and rejected his appeal for refugee status because there were no grounds for approval.
“After the two interviews in 2002, we had not been in contact. Neither were there e-mails or letters sent by him since then,” Shinji said, and added that the case was closed.
Gulam’s business grievances, as narrated in his letter, touched on allegations of drug dealings and money laundering by a local company that supplied him scarves and dates to sell in the city’s Masjid India area.
He claimed to have been cheated of his dues although he had helped the company sell RM800,000 worth of scarves and two container-loads of dates.
He alleged that the company was a front for illegal businesses such as passport forgeries, drug sales and robberies.
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