KUALA LUMPUR: Out of the 242 persons who have died under police custody since 2000 to February 2014, only two deaths were attributed to the police.
According to the vice-chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia's (Suhakam) Datuk Dr Khaw Lake Tee (pic) at the launch of their 2014 annual report, police statistics shows the number of deaths in police custody increased from 9 to 20 deaths in 2013.
"In Malaysia, the number of deaths in police custody is significantly high and this has become a matter of public concern and scrutiny," said Suhakam in their report.
"While the police has the duty and responsibility to maintain peace and order, and to arrest any person who has broken the laws, there is also the duty and responsibility to protect the person detained from any harm whether inflicted by himself or others."
Suhakam says that the police figures indicate that there may be systemic problems in managing and handling detainees in police lock-ups.
The Commission has hence embarked on a study on deaths in police custody titled 'Deaths in Police Custody' and a study on 'Right to Health in Prison', as a result of the complaints Suhakam has received over the years.
The study focuses not only on the rights and healthcare of detainees under custody but also on the welfare and rights of police personnel directly involved or in contact with the detainees.
"Prisoners generally suffer a disproportionate burden of health problems as their health needs are often neglected," said the report.
According to the United Nations Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners (1990), it states that "prisoners shall have access to the health services available in the country without discrimination on the grounds of their legal situation".
"From the observations made by the Commission, there are high levels of mental illness, chronic and communicable diseases, and even disability among prisoners," said the report.
Therefore, Suhakam takes the view that prison reforms must address the many problems currently affecting the Malaysian prison system, including: Medical/health care in prison, mental health care in prison and prison conditions.
"Given that incarceration is not simply a matter of crime and punishment, but also an issue of public health, the Commission takes the view that the Government, through the Prisons Department, have a responsibility to ensure that prisoners have access to health services that are broadly equivalent to those available in the community," said the report.
The full report on 'Death in Police Custody' and 'Right to Health in Prison' is set to be released this year.