Dear Prime Minister,

We are writing to you as a Malaysian human rights organisation concerned with the death of C. Sugumar on 23 January 2013.

As you would no doubt agree, the circumstances surrounding his death were appalling and very serious: he was chased by a group of uniformed policemen; he was quickly overpowered and handcuffed but in the process, a mob assaulted and stripped him naked and a policeman also smeared his face with turmeric. While he was facing down on the ground with his hands cuffed to his back, a policeman stepped on his neck until he stopped struggling. He died and no attempt was made to resuscitate him nor was any medical attention given to him.

The PDRM have now made the incredible claim that they are not responsible for his death nor have any of their personnel committed any criminal offence because the post-mortem showed Sugumar died from a heart attack. This is not surprising as PDRM do have a terrible history of cover up and denial of responsibility, see for example, the death in custody of A. Kugan and fatal police shooting of 15-year-old Aminulrasyid.

In the long road from political independence to a modern democratic Malaysia, we seem to have lost our way and have allowed such a public display of state violence, to pass with impunity and without justice. This tragic incident is a serious blot and reminder on how far we are from the Malaysia we aspire.

It has been more than two months since Sugumar was killed in broad daylight while under police custody. His body still lies at the Serdang Hospital morgue, suspended between pending funeral rites and a much required second post-mortem that has been blocked at every stage by the authorities.

What further saddens us is that there has been so little sympathy or response from the authorities and the politicians that make up the government of the day. Even though Sugumar’s death was mainly championed by the opposition and civil society – this should not have mattered – and the authorities should have addressed his death instead of blindly supporting the police once again.

Several deaths in custody have already occurred this year, among them Chang Chin Te, Mohd Ropi and M. Ragu who have now joined a very long and tragic list of people who have died in PDRM custody.

According to the Home Ministry, from 2000 to February 2011, 156 people were found dead in police lock-up or custody but yet there is little accountability, transparency or any real investigations by the courts, police, Attorney-General’s Chambers and hospitals which provide medical assistance or conduct post-mortems. Out of these 156 cases, 85 (or 54.5%) were classified as “No Further Action” (what even does this mean?).

Despite the obvious seriousness of any death in custody, these important state institutions in most, if not all of these cases, chose to downplay, cover up, ignore or even make outrageous claims over these deaths – causing these institutions to lose credibility and public confidence. Despite the long list of custodial deaths, very few policemen are criminally charged much less found guilty of any offence.

We therefore make this appeal with the hope that as the next Prime Minister, you will correct this grave injustice and let Sugumar’s family have closure over his death. In order for this to happen, state institutions must be freed from improper political interference so that they are able to function independently and impartially like in any modern democratic state.

Lastly, we hope that you will also support setting up the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) which will certainly go a long way in preventing custodial deaths and enhancing public confidence.

Thank you.

Eric Paulsen
Co-founder & Adviser
Lawyers for Liberty