Prosecute the police personnel responsible for the custodial death of Karuna Nithi
20 April 2016
Today, the Seremban Coroner Court delivered the verdict by Dato’ Jagjit Singh a/l Bant Singh after further evidence was introduced in the re-opened inquest into the death of Karuna Nithi a/l Palani Velu at the Tampin police station lock-up on 1 June 2013.
The inquest was re-opened on 13 October 2015 to introduce the testimony of Dr. Mohd Shah bin Mahmood, senior forensic pathologist of Kuala Lumpur Hospital after the Health Ministry convened a one-day Inquiry Committee of forensic pathologists to discuss the inquest verdict. It should be noted that the inquest had commenced for more than a year, starting on 12 November 2013 and ending on 28 January 2015 when the verdict was delivered. Amongst other evidence, 44 witnesses testified and lengthy CCTV recordings were examined and relied throughout the inquest.
Today, the Coroner found there was no new material evidence produced by Dr. Mohd Shah. The Coroner further held: “I did not find Dr. Mohd Shah and the Inquiry Committee’s Report reliable or credible” and went on to detail the flaws and shortcomings of their report.
The Coroner was satisfied that the cause of Karuna Nithi’s death remains the same i.e. among others, by a combination of unlawful acts and omissions by person or persons unknown, inclusive of police officers and other detainees in the police lock-up where the deceased was detained.
Needless to say, we are extremely concerned that the authorities had taken this unusual approach as the Inquiry Committee had essentially acted like an appellate court to review the findings of the Coroner. The inquiry report itself is not “new evidence” in law but clearly an afterthought and unfair tactic designed to alter the original verdict and findings of the Coroner Court that were not favourable to them.
This debacle should serve as a reminder to the police, the AG’s Chambers and the medical authorities not to take an “us against them” approach as inquest and custodial deaths are extremely serious matters that must be handled with the utmost competence, fairness and independence, lest they be accused of covering up or down playing evidence.
It has been almost three years since the death of Karuna Nithi, with 49 injuries including a broken jaw and not a single policeman has been arrested or charged for his death, or even disciplined, despite the damning court findings. Karuna Nithi died tragically, needlessly and in the most humiliating manner possible. His death could have been avoided had the authorities taken action for the many previous deaths in custody.
Unfortunately, the authorities’ inaction is symptomatic of a framework of institutionalised impunity where a detainee can die in police custody and there will be little recourse or accountability. Even in cases where the inquests have found the police to be criminally concerned, the state is still reluctant to hold law enforcement personnel accountable for the unlawful killings. Instead, a ‘blue wall of silence’ builds up to frustrate all attempts to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Today, the family members of the deceased have called upon the authorities to act swiftly and to bring the policemen responsible to justice, that serious actions be taken against them through criminal charges or at the very least that they be sacked from the police force.
We call upon the Chief Justice, the Attorney-General and the Inspector-General of Police to take more seriously issues that involve state violence especially extrajudicial killings. They must be particularly vigilant against the serious abuse of police powers that sidesteps the criminal justice process and takes on the role of judge, jury and executioner.
We reiterate our calls for the government to implement the recommendation of the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysia Police (May 2005), for the setting up of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to function as an independent and external oversight body to investigate complaints about police personnel.
Lawyers for Liberty
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