Deaths in detention an arduous battle for justice

From Malaysiakini

COMMENT On the Aug 11, 2012, Cheah Chin Lee was a 36-year-old furniture shop assistant in Tanjung Bungah, Penang, with no history of health or emotional problems.
On Aug 12, he was arrested by the police in connection with a motorcycle theft case. On Aug 13, he was found dead, hanging from his neck in the Tanjung Tokong police station lockup.

Cheah’s case is one of many appalling deaths in detention in Malaysia. Whether or not the police caused such deaths in detention directly, there is no question that they are fully responsible for the health and safety of all detainees.

These cases, along with reports of beatings and torture while under police detention, form one of Malaysia’s biggest ongoing human rights violations.

Seeking justice in such cases has always been an uphill battle, in a country where the administration of justice is flawed on multiple levels.

In the most recent developments in Cheah’s inquest, the coroner has shockingly denied the family’s lawyer from access to notes of evidence and court records, as well as disallowed said lawyer from making submissions during the inquest itself – creating an undeniable obstacle in the pursuit of justice and an atmosphere that brings to mind collusion and cover-ups.

Inquests an uphill battle

Many deaths in custody do not even get an inquest. What should be a standard procedure to investigate any and all deaths in custody is in fact a rarity that is often only called as a result of public pressure. This is the first injustice that requires remedy.

Successfully calling an inquest however, does not guarantee justice – far from it.

In over a thousand recorded deaths in custody (including in prisons and immigration detention centres), there have been almost no inquests which clearly and unambiguously hold the authorities responsible.

Often times, the inquest proceedings are beset by the unbearably frustrating phenomena that some of us have come to expect of our courts.

In one example, the lawyer representing the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission in Teoh Beng Hock’s inquest famously suggested that Teoh Beng Hock might have strangled himself.

Severe conflicts of interest

A key problem in these inquest proceedings is how many of the parties involved perceive themselves to be ‘on the same side’, even in cases where technically, they are not supposed to be.

For example, the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) are responsible, along with the coroner, to push for the truth as to how an individual died in custody.

The police themselves, by virtue of being the ones detaining the individual, must have their culpability thoroughly investigated.

A problem arises when the AGC and the police often regard one another as two parts of the same body (the government).

In the same way that a long standing problem with police misconduct is that the ‘proper’ way to seek redress is by lodging a police report against the police with (the same) police, there appears to exist a serious conflict of interest.

The relationship between the AGC and the police is further complicated by the fact that the AGC also in essence acts as counsel to the police.

For example, after an inquest, should the family of an individual who has died in custody opt to bring a civil suit against the police, it is the AGC that represents the police in the suit.

We saw the odd manner in which this plays out in the case of R Gunasegaran, a man who died in police custody on the very same day as Teoh Beng Hock.

During the inquest proceedings, the AGC acted as deputy public prosecutor, and submitted to the coroner that the police had abused their powers, and were culpable for Gunasegaran’s death.

After the coroner returned an open verdict (a phenomenon far too common in such cases), Gunasegaran’s family filed a civil suit against the police.

This time, the AGC represented the police as federal counsel, and now lawyers from the same institution were then arguing the opposite of their colleagues earlier – that the police in fact had done nothing wrong whatsoever. Clearly there is a serious disconnect here.

As if this was not bad enough, there are some questions regarding coroners as well. The coroner in an inquest was previously a magistrate, and is now a sessions court judge.

Neither are technically independent in the same way a high court judge is, but are in fact part of the AGC, and serve at the pleasure of the attorney general.

It appears then, that everyone – the police, the deputy public prosecutor from the AGC, and the coroner – is on the ‘same side’ (“the government”), except for the family of the deceased.

Surely within such a system, the conflict of interest and opportunity for collusion to exonerate anyone perceived to be ‘on the side’ of the government is much higher than it should be.

Why is family shut out?

Thus far, most inquests have been decent enough to allow lawyers representing the family of the deceased to participate fully and meaningfully in the inquest proceedings.

The lawyer representing Cheah’s family, M Visvanathan (left), was thus shocked when the coroner refused to allow him access to the notes of evidence and recordings of the court proceedings, or to make submissions in the inquest, effectively shutting the family’s lawyer out of the process.

Visvanathan is still allowed to ask questions during this inquest; beyond that however, he has been reduced to little more than a spectator with almost as little involvement and standing as a member of the public in the gallery.

Visvanathan filed for an application for revision of this decision in the Penang High Court, which was dismissed. The AGC unprecedentedly went as far as to raise preliminary objections in this application, supporting the coroner’s decision. Visvanathan is now taking the matter to the Court of Appeal.

The question then becomes: why is the lawyer representing the family of the deceased being shut out from the process?

Given the conflicts of interest described above, if the family is not allowed to participate in the inquest, would a finding that exonerated the police be believable?

Surely there are questions here of whether or not this renders the judicial process incomplete and/or defective.

No more cover-ups

The problems here lie both in the design of the system and in its execution. For too long, Malaysians have suffered from the falling reputation of its judicial system.

Cases like Cheah’s do nothing to dispute perceptions of how the system is one-sided and lacks integrity.

By blocking the family from the inquest proceedings, surely suspicions will be raised that there is a concerted effort to block a thorough examination into the causes of Cheah’s death. Some may even speculate as to efforts towards a cover-up of sorts.

We hope against hope for good sense and justice to prevail, such that a clear precedent will be set that allows the families of those who have died in custody to participate in the process of determining how their loved ones have died.

NATHANIEL TAN is not quite back yet, and intends to continue grappling with the big picture in relative quiet. He tweets much less nowadays @NatAsasi.

Joint statement on abolish sedition act and the formation of abolish the sedition act movement/ Gerakan hapus akta hasutan (Ghah)


Click here for Bahasa version.


Click here for Chinese version.





5 September 2014, Kuala Lumpur

press conference on GHAH

We, the undersigned organisations have come together to express in the strongest terms our protest against the continuing usage of the repressive, colonial and undemocratic Sedition Act of 1948.

The Sedition Act is a piece of repressive legislation made by the British colonial government to suppress freedom of expression and opinion of our forefathers who fought for the independence of our country. This legislation has to go if we want to be a truly independent nation.

The Sedition Act is too broadly defined and is easily open to abuse by the government. It can and is being used to criminalise almost any kind of democratic speech including legitimate criticisms against the government, its leaders or the ruling political parties. Under the Sedition Act, almost anything said or published that is remotely contentious can be deemed seditious. The Sedition Act is clearly being misused to protect the government and its interests, clampdown on the opposition and dissidents, make certain issues off limits, stifle civil liberties and create a climate of fear reminiscent of the worst days under the iron fisted Mahathir regime.

This trend is clearly illustrated in the conviction of Hindraf leader, P. Uthayakumar in June 2013 and former national chairman of Democratic Action Party, the late Karpal Singh in February 2014.

Over the past month, the Sedition Act has been indiscriminately used in a new wave of political repression and terror whose targets have included elected representatives and lawyers who have a public duty to speak on matters of public interest.

We are also extremely concerned with the selective prosecution under the Sedition Act by the Attorney General who is clearly targeting those who are critical of the government.

Those who have been charged are:

1.         David Orok                                         Member, Sabah Reform Party

2.         Azmi Sharom                                      Law professor, University of Malaya

3.         N Surendran                                        Lawyer, Padang Serai MP

4.         Khalid Samad                                     Shah Alam MP

5.         RSN Rayer                                          Lawyer, Seri Delima ADUN

6.         Abdullah Zaik Abdul Rahman           President, Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia

7.         Teresa Kok                                          Seputeh MP

8.         Chua Tian Chang                                Batu MP

9.         Hishamuddin Rais                              Social Activist

10.       Adam Adli                                          Student Activist

11.       Safwan Anang                                                Student Activist

12.       Haris Ibrahim                                      Lawyer/ Social Activist

13.       Tamrin Tun Abdul Ghafar                  Political Activist

14.       Md Shuhaimi Shafie                           Sri Muda ADUN


Numerous others are being investigated including:-


1.         Viktor Wong                                       Activist, Parti Rakyat Malaysia

2.         Susan Loone                                       Journalist, Malaysiakini

3.         Hassan Karim                                      Lawyer/ PKR Johor Vice Chairman

4.         Rafizi Ramli                                        Pandan MP

5.         Ali bin Jalil                                          Member of public

6.         17-year-old schoolboy                        (unnamed)

7.         Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin            Changkat Jering ADUN

The Prime Minister had on 11 July 2012 and 3 July 2013 promised to repeal the Sedition Act.  It is shocking that despite this promise to the Malaysian public, the usage of the Act has greatly increased.

The Sedition Act is being used as a new type of ISA, to stifle and repress the opposition, civil society and the public.

At this critical hour, when our human rights are being trampled upon with impunity, we, the undersigned endorse the formation of Gerakan Hapus Akta Hasutan (GHAH).

The objective of GHAH is to carry out a national campaign to bring to an end the ever present threat of freedom of expression and opinion by the Sedition Act that hangs over every Malaysian.

Our demands are:




GHAH will be officially launched on 15 September 2014 and will be going nationwide to urgently push for the fulfillment of the above demands.


Endorsed by:

  1. Aliran
    1. All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
    2. Amnesty International Malaysia
    3. Anak Muda Sarawak
    4. Angkatan Warga Aman Malaysia (Warga AMAN)
    5. Asian Law Students Association (ALSA)
    6. Association of Women Lawyers
    7. Baramkini
    8. Bersih Sibu
    9. Borneo Resources Institute (BRIMAS)
    10. Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
    11. Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC)
    12. Center for Reform, Democracy and Social Initiatives (CRD)
    13. Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4)
    14. Community Action Network (CAN)
    15. Dam the Dams
    16. Dapur Komuniti Serdang
    17. Dignity International
    18. ENGAGE
    19. Federation of Malaysian Indian Organisation (PRIMA)
    20. Friends of Kota Damansara
    21. Gabungan Mahasiswa Islam Se-Malaysia (G.A.M.I.S.)
    22. Gabungan Persatuan Alumni Universiti Taiwan, Malaysia 大马留台联总
    23. GEMA-UMANY ALUMNI 马大新青年毕业生协会
    24. Gerakan Bunga Raya
    25. Global Bersih
    26. Himpunan Hijau
    27. Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs Studies (IDEAS)
    28. Institute for Development of Alternative Living (IDEAL)
    29. Institute for Leadership and Development Studies (LEAD)
    30. Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF)
    31. Japan Graduates’ Association of Malaysia (JAGAM)
    32. Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS)
    33. Jihad for Justice
    34. Johor Yellow Flame (JYF)
    35. Kajian Politik untuk Perubahan
    36. Kelab Bangsar Utama
    37. Knowledge and Rights with Young people through Safer Spaces (KRYSS)
    38. Kuala Lumpur Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall
    39. Kuen Cheng Alumni Association
    40. Kumpulan Aktivis Mahasiswa Independen (KAMI)
    41. Lawyers for Liberty
    42. Legasi Mahasiswa Progresif
    43. Lensa Anak Muda Malaysia
    44. Life for Democracy
    45. Linkaran Islam Tradisional
    46. LLG Cultural Development Centre
    47. Malaysia Indians Progressive Association (MIPAS)
    48. Malaysia Physicians for Social Responsibility
    49. Malaysia Speakers Association 马来西亚讲师协会
    50. Malaysia Youth and Students’ Democratic Movement (DEMA)
    51. Malaysia-China Chamber of Commerce
    52. Malaysian Youth Care Association (PRIHATIN)
    53. Mama Bersih
    54. Monitoring Sustainability of Globalisation (MSN)
    55. Nanyang University Alumni Association
    56. National Indian Rights Action Team (NIAT)
    57. National Oversight and Whistleblowers (NOW)
    58. Negeri Sembilan Chinese Assembly Hall
    59. New Era College Alumni Association
    60. Northern Green Youth
    61. Pahang Raub Ban Cyanide in Gold Mining Action Committee
    62. Parti Sosialis Malaysia, Cawangan Nusajaya
    63. Partners of Community Organizations in Sabah (Pacos Trust)
    64. Pax Romana International Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs (ICMICA)
      1. Penang Forum Steering Committee
      2. People Welfare and Rights Organisation (POWER)
      3. Perak Green Pioneer (PGP)
      4. Perak Women for Women Society (PWW)
      5. Persahabatan Semparuthi, Johor
      6. Persatuan Alumni PBTUSM Kuala Lumpur & Selangor
      7. Persatuan Bahasa Tionghua Northern Region Alumni
      8. Persatuan Bahasa Tionghua Universiti Sains Malaysia
      9. Persatuan Bekas Murid-Murid Confucian School Wilayah Persekutuan dan Selangor 雪隆尊孔学校校
        1. Persatuan Bekas Siswazah Universiti and Kolej di China
        2. Persatuan Hopo Kuala Lumpur & Selangor, Bahagian Belia 隆雪河婆同乡会青年部
        3. Persatuan Huian Quangang KL dan Selangor (Bhg Pemuda)  隆雪惠安泉港公会青年团
        4. Persatuan Huian Quangang KL dan Selangor 隆雪惠安泉港公会
        5. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)
        6. Persatuan Koh Yew Kuala Lumpur & Selangor 隆雪高要会馆
        7. Persatuan Komuniti Prihatin Selangor & Kuala Lumpur
        8. Persatuan Mahasiswa University Malaya 马大学生会
        9. Persatuan Masyarakat Selangor (PERMAS)
        10. Persatuan Rapat Malaysia (RAPAT)
        11. Pertubuhan IKRAM Malaysia (IKRAM)
        12. Projek BERES
        13. Projek Dialog
        14. Pusat Komas
        15. Rainbow Genders Society
        16. Research for Social Advancement (REFSA)
        17. Sabah Environmental Protection Association (SEPA)
        18. Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (SAWO)
        19. Sahabat Rakyat Working Committee
        20. Sarawak Student Progressive Front
        21. Sarawak Youth for Change
        22. SAVE Rivers
        23. Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia ( SABM )
        24. School of Acting Justly, LovingTenderly n Treading Humbly (SALT)
        25. Selangor & Federal Territory Chung Shan Association 雪隆中山同乡会

100.Selangor and Kuala Lumpur Hokkien Association

101.Selangor Hokkien Association Youth Section

102.Sembang Sembang Forum

103.SHIELD Tam (ST)

104.Sisters in Islam

105.Student Progressive Front of Universiti Putra Malaysia (Gerakan Mahasiswa Maju University Putra Malaysia)

106.Students Progressive Front University Sains Malaysia

107.Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)

108.Tamil Foundation Malaysia

109.Tamilar Action Force (TAF)


111.Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy

112.Teori Timur

113.The Selangor & Kuala Lumpur Foundry & Engineering Industries Association 雪隆机器厂商会

114.The Selangor & Kuala Lumpur Kwang Tung Association Youth Section

115.The Selangor & Kuala Lumpur Kwang Tung Association 雪隆广东会馆

116.The Selangor & Kuala Lumpur Nan Ann Association 雪隆南安会馆

117.Tindak Malaysia

118.United Chinese Scholl Alumni Associations of Malaysia (UCSAAM)

119.Universiti Terbuka Anak Muda (UTAM)

120.University Malaya Association of New Youth (UMANY)

121.Women Development of Malaysia PJ New Town Branch

122.Women’s Aid Organization (WAO)

123.Women’s Centre for Change

124.Writers Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI)

125.Youth for Change (Y4C)

2013 Custodial Deaths List- Will this ever ends?

Press Statement: 18 July 2013

2013 Custodial Deaths List- Will this ever ends?

SUARAM once again is publicizing the list of deaths under state custody for the year 2013.

Year Date Name Age Location
2013 14-Jan-13 Chang Chin Te 30 USJ8
2013 23-Jan-13 Sugumaran 39 Batu 14 Cheras
2013 01-Feb-13 Mohd.Ropi 43 Temerloh, Died at the Sultan Ahmad Shah Hospital
2013 10-Mar-13 M.Ragu 47 Kampar
2013 17-Mar-13 UNKNOWN 55 Seri Alam Johor
2013 3-April-13 Muhammad Kusyairi 25 Hospital Pulau Pinang
2013 21-May-13 Dharmendran 32 IPK KL
2013 27-May-13 Jamesh Ramesh 40 Penang
2013 01-Jun-13 Karunanithi 42 IPD Tampin
2013 8-Jun-2013 Nobuhiro Matshushita 33 USJ8
2013 4-July-2013 Cheong Fook Meng 53 Jalan Imbi
2013 16-July-2013 Chew Shiang Giap 26 Pusat Pemulihan Akhlak Batu Gajah

Three people have now died in police custody on the same date, the 16 of July. The first two were Teoh Beng Hock and Gunasegaran back in 2009 and now we have the latest case of Chew Siang Giap who was also found dead in the Batu Gajah prison rehabilitation centre on 16 July 2013. His death has once again has sparked public outrage against the increasing number of custodial deaths in the country.

SUARAM calls on the police to ensure accountability for the so-called “sudden deaths” of the individuals name above who were healthy before they were apprehended but lost their lives while under the responsibility of the police.

The right to life is guaranteed in Article 5 of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). However the cases above highlight how personnel from the Royal Police of Malaysia seem to have a lack of respect for this fundamental right and the value of human life.

The police force and the judiciary tend to respond swiftly to other cases of murder but continue to fail to take similar steps in cases of deaths under police custody of innocent victims. This sends a chilling message to the public that these deaths do not count and that police personnel can operate above the law with impunity in this country. SUARAM calls on the authorities to ensure an independent and impartial investigation into all these cases and to make the findings public.

From the list above, only 3 police officers have been charged for the death of N. Dharmendran only after public pressure and outcry while one of them went missing. On the case of Karunanithi, who died in Tampin in June, till today no officers have been charged despite the fact that the post-mortem and video shows evidence of bruises and injuries on his body.

Now in this latest case of Chew Siang Giap, his father has also found bruises on the ears, shoulder and thigh of the deceased body. It is unacceptable that Chew Siang Giap’s family has to plead for an independent investigation to be made in order for the perpetrators to be held to account. Why can’t the police be proactive in investigating this death in custody? Further the EAIC has also been silent on the matter and has yet to initiate any investigation which is within their powers.

SUARAM calls for the setting up of an independent oversight mechanism to make sure the Royal Police of Malaysia respects human rights and performs its duties in accordance to the law. The Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) has been the ongoing call from civil society groups since it was first proposed by the Royal Police Commission back in 2005.

SUARAM wants an end to these serious human rights violations. The public wants an independent body to probe these deaths in custody and hold the perpetrators to account. The failure to ensure effective police accountability mechanisms highlights the lack of political will by the government to take genuine steps to reform the police in this country.

Released by,
Thevarajan R
SUARAM Coordinator





Attached is the Suaram’s urgent arrest team for 22 June 2013.

We have given our name and contact numbers.

This what we want you to do:

If you see or witness anyone being arrested at your respective place, please send SMS to the number that given.


OFFICE NUMBER: 03 77843525 (DIANE)


 3  JALAN RAJA LAUT  HASBEE  010 5033274
 4  SOGO THEVA  013 3845740
 5 JALAN PUDU PETER 0129059948


You only have to type:

a. Name

b. IC Number/passport number

c. Phone number

d. Police station that the person being taken to or detained


SUARAM will send the SMS to the lawyers as well as to the our person in charge in office.

You may also call our office and you can talk to Miss Diane and please give details to her.


Dont get panic when you being arrested by the police or being stopped by the DBKL. All you need to do is CALM DOWN and SMS US!



Thank you

Released by,

Nalini Elumalai

On behalf of SUARAM Team