Will EAIC recommendations make a difference?


PUTRAJAYA: Tomorrow, another two reports investigating deaths in police custody will be released by the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) but will the recommendations make any difference?

In April 2016, the EAIC made many recommendations involving the standard operating procedures (SOPs) of several government bodies following its public inquiry into the death of 32-year-old N. Dharmendran at the KL police headquarters lockup in 2013.

The public will know on Thursday (Jan 18) whether those recommendations were implemented or ignored.

Soh Kai Chiok, 49, died on Jan 18, 2017, at Triang police station in Bera District, Pahang, and S. Balamurugan, 44, on Feb 7 at North Klang District police headquarters, Selangor. Soh was reported to have stolen some bananas and Balamurugan was a robbery suspect.

Both these deaths occurred between nine and 10 months after the Dharmendran report was released.

In Soh's case, an EAIC task force comprising senior officers investigated his death.

But in the death of Balamurugan, EAIC conducted a public inquiry over several days in May, June and July, calling a total of 47 witnesses.

During the inquiry, The Star Online reported Senior Assistant Commissioner Yusoff Mamat as saying that police officers at the North Klang District police station repeatedly ignored SOP in their handling of Balamurugan.

"I had said in a briefing in December that any detainee found ill should be sent to the hospital immediately. They disobeyed me," he told the inquiry.

The EAIC reports into Balamurugan and Soh's deaths will be released by Datuk A Aziz A Rahim, who retired from the Court of Appeal in 2016, and who took over from Datuk Yaacob Md Sam as the agency's chairman on Nov 1.

Apart from EAIC, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) too has been investigating deaths in custody and making recommendations.

On Feb 10 last year, three days after Balamurugan died, Suhakam opened an investigation into his death under the Suhakam Act.

After interviewing and recording statements from 43 witnesses, Suhakam identified several areas of concern that continue to arise in relation to deaths in police custody.

On March 29, its chairman Tan Sri Razali Ismail said in a statement the magistrate had said that Balamurugan was "unable to sit up, stand or even hold his head up when his name was called in her Court."

"Evidence from Suhakam's investigation also identified numerous systemic failures on the part of the police in regard to the treatment of detainees in police custody, including but not limited to failures to follow the Lock up Rules 1953, police standard operating procedures, the Court Order and relevant international human rights norms and standards," he added.

On Oct 30, an inspector was charged with voluntarily causing hurt to Balamurugan with the intent to forcefully extort a confession in an armed robbery case.

But even before that, suspected gang leader K. Parthiban died at Melaka Hospital on May 22 after he was interviewed over 20 days while detained at the Melaka Tengah police lock-up.

Suhakam, which investigated the death, recommended the courts convene an inquest.

"Suhakam identified unresolved issues concerning the delivery of medical attention in lock up vis-a-vis custodial deaths, and is of the view that little improvement has been made in police procedures for dealing with the delivery of medical attention for persons in police custody," Razali said on Aug 8.

Non-compliance of SOP appears to be a problem in the armed forces as well.

Following the deaths of Able Rate seamen Nik Muhammad Baihaqy Nik Mat, 28, and Able Rate Muhammad Lailatulman Mohd Sukri, 26, on Sept 30 last year at the detention centre in Sungai Wangi, Sitiawan, Perak, Armed Forces chief General Tan Sri Raja Mohamed Affandi Raja Mohamed Noor said there were SOPs for the admission of "underperforming" personnel but some did not follow them.

Three days later, two other naval personnel lodged a police report alleging their colleagues had physically assaulted them also.

On Oct 2, Affandi said they would review the existing SOPs for the army, navy and air force.