Suhakam says Nigerian student's death due to heart attack, but raises elements of negligence

  • Nation
  • Friday, 20 Dec 2019

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) found there were several issues of negligence relating to the death of Nigerian student Thomas Orhions Ewansiha, who died in custody after being nabbed by the Immigration Department.

Suhakam commissioner Jerald Joseph, in a press conference on Friday (Dec 20), said that while the commission agrees that the cause of death was due to a heart attack, there were preventable issues.

“Our conclusion is that there were no injuries that suggested torture. It is a health-related issue, but we have some questions because such detention should not have happened in the first place.

"In this case, the Immigration Department will have to bear the responsibility of his death,” he said.

One of the issues found during their investigations was that medical officers at the depot did not have the appropriate blood pressure cuff for Thomas due to his size.

“If you don’t have it, he should have been brought to a hospital that had one, because a delay is dangerous for those on medication.

“I know you can’t have all equipment, but a nearby hospital or clinic should,” he said.

On his medical condition, the commission found that while the medication given to him was correct, it was not complete due to Ewansiha requiring three types of medication and he being unsure of the proper dosage required.

Joseph also took note that Ewansiha has valid documentation but was still apprehended.

“Is it illegal detention despite having valid documentation? We are not saying the department doesn’t have the power (to investigate), but if one has valid papers, why do you still keep him detained? The process of verifying documents shouldn’t take more than a day. We have the technology, so it can be done,” he said.

Interviews with detainees also showed that many ran in fear after seeing plainclothes officers bearing wooden sticks, not knowing that they were from the Immigration Department.

“We understand that they would want to maintain the element of surprise, but if you and I see someone with no uniform walking like that, you’ll run, too. So there should be some improvements so they don’t scare off people,” he said.

Ewansiha was arrested by the Immigration Department during a raid on July 4.

He was initially detained for 14 days for further investigations.

However, while in detention, officers on duty were told by other detainees that Ewansiha had a seizure in his sleep.

An autopsy conducted on the body showed no physical signs of injuries. An inquest by the Kuala Lumpur Coroner’s Court will begin Jan 2 next year.

In an unrelated issue, Suhakam expressed shock over the conditions at the Semporna police lock-up.

A check by the commission in October showed that almost all of the toilets there were clogged up.

“Faeces were scattered all over the place which led to the horrible smell. The cell floors were dirty and the ventilation was bad,” he said.

He added that the issue stemmed from budget constraints which prevented repair works to be conducted.

“We feel sorry for both the detainees and the police on duty there. The police chief wanted repairs and maintenance but he has to wait for a budget,” he said.

Joseph suggested that the lock-up be temporarily closed, and that the Finance Ministry inject emergency funds to rectify the issue.

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