Groups demand inquest on Nigerian student’s custodial death, cite wife’s murder claim

Attorney General Tommy Thomas is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court July 25, 2019. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Attorney General Tommy Thomas is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court July 25, 2019. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, July 25 — The attorney general (AG) must order an inquest into the death of Nigerian student Thomas Orhions Ewansiha while in immigration authorities’ custody, a gathering of civil society groups said today.

Led by Eliminating Deaths and Abuse in Custody Together (Edict), they noted that Thomas’s widow alleged murder in a foreign news report, which contradicted the medical report concluding that the postgraduate student had no physical injuries.

“It is of paramount importance to get to the truth as to the real reasons and causes of Thomas’s death, as there appear to be contradictory statements made with regards to his cause of death.

“We urge the attorney general to exercise his powers pursuant to Section 339 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) to immediately call for the Coroner’s Court to hold an inquiry pursuant to provisions of the CPC,” the groups said in a statement.

Under the CPC, the AG has the prerogative to order an inquest conducted into the cause of any deaths including, suicide, sudden death or circumstances raising a reasonable suspicion death was caused by another person.

The groups went on to urge the federal government to enact legislation that would make custodial deaths at Immigration facilities trigger the AG to decide on the need for inquests, similarly to such incidents at police, prison and psychiatric facilities.

“The family of Thomas, our nation, foreigners residing in Malaysia and the world deserve a proper account for the death of Thomas while he was in the custody of immigration officers,” they added.

Aside from Edict, other groups that endorsed the statement include Suaram, the TBH Foundation For Democracy, Caged, Parti Sosialis Malaysia, and Penggerak.

On July 4, Immigration enforcers detained Thomas after he attempted to flee during the raid and held him for 14 days for further checks.

This was despite initial checks of his documents showing he had a valid student pass; the Immigration Department said his attempted flight caused it to doubt the authenticity of his student pass.

Five days later, fellow detainees alerted the duty officer that Thomas had suffered a seizure while asleep; a medical team responded to the incident but later pronounced the Nigerian dead at the scene.

On July 16, Hospital Canselor Tuanku Muhriz (HCTM) confirmed that no physical injuries were discovered on Thomas’s body, appearing to corroborate the Immigration Department’s explanation that the Nigerian had suffered seizures and lost consciousness.

Earlier the same day, Nigerian news outlet Punch reported Thomas’s widow as alleging that he was murdered and that his body was mutilated during the autopsy.

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