Despite the obvious seriousness of any death in police custody or fatal shooting, there is rarely any accountability, transparency or real investigations by the authorities responsible, namely the courts, police, Attorney-General’s Chambers and government hospitals which provide medical assistance or conduct post-mortems.
Although under the Criminal Procedure Code, inquest into deaths in custody is mandatory, in reality, very few inquests are conducted. The Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Police (May 2005) revealed that inquests were done on only 6 out of the 80 deaths in police custody in the four-year period.
Even when inquests are conducted, the whole process is extremely slow, cumbersome, often taking several years to complete, and highly unsatisfactory with the AG’s Chambers and police officers downplaying evidence, medical authorities typically attributing “natural causes” and other unacceptable reasons for the cause of death. Such unholy alliance leads to “open verdicts” in many inquiries which simply means that the cause of death is unclear and therefore no one can be held responsible. Despite the long list of custodial deaths and fatal shootings, very few policemen are criminally charged much less found guilty of any offence.
Statistics from the police showed that between 2000 and February 2010, 64 Malays died while in police custody, with 30 deaths among Chinese detainees, 28 Indians, 8 other races, and 14 foreigners. Some of the reasons given for the cause of the deaths: 63 from “other diseases” such as ulcers, yellow fever (jaundice) and intestine, lung and throat infections, 23 were listed as “suicide” in the cells, and 12 deaths from brain hemorrhage, and 66 were termed as “no further action”.
Further, a total of 298 alleged criminals were shot dead by the police from 2007 to August 2012. In 2007, a total of 13 people were shot dead, while in 2008 (85), 2009 (88), 2010 (45), 2011 (30) and up to August 2012 (37). Indonesians accounted for 151 persons who were shot dead, 134 Malaysians, 5 Vietnamese, 3 Burmese, 2 Thais, 1 Nigerian, 1 Liberian and another person of unknown nationality.
We note the disturbing similarity in the justification given by the trigger happy police after most fatal police shooting cases. In almost all cases, the police claimed that the suspects were wanted criminals who attempted to attack police. The police in self defence, opened fire, killing all instantly. Subsequent to the shooting, police claimed to have discovered weapons in their vehicle and accused the dead of being involved in all sorts of crime. However, in a few cases, some have survived and witnesses had come forward to describe what had actually happened, which is a far cry from that described by the police. Many have been shot for merely attempting to flee from the police or road blocks even though they were not suspected for any serious crimes or posed any threat to the public or the police.