KUALA LUMPUR, May 1 — The Malaysian Bar has urged the federal government to take decisive action into the phenomenon of custodial deaths in Malaysia, saying that the proposed Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) must be formed as soon as possible.

Its president AG Kalidas said an immediate and independent investigation and inquest into the death of cow milk trader A. Ganapathy must be conducted, following his death on April 18 at Selayang Hospital.

“Unabated deaths in custody have led to an erosion of confidence in law enforcement authorities. It is therefore incumbent on such authorities, including the police, to ensure that the confidence instilled in them by those they are tasked to protect, is safeguarded and deserved,” he said in a statement.

Referring to news reports, Kalidas said Ganapathy had spent 12 days in police custody before being released and subsequently admitted to Selayang Hospital.

“While the police have issued a statement that Ganapathy’s cause of death was necrotising fasciitis of the right lower limb complicated with sepsis, it was reported that according to Ganapathy’s lawyer, his autopsy report found that he had succumbed to injuries inflicted on his shoulders and legs.

“In a separate statement, the police have indicated that there is no evidence that he had been beaten while in custody. This is a matter of great public concern and warrants the highest priority,” he said, adding that a thorough and transparent investigation must be conducted in order to uncover the facts surrounding Ganapathy’s death.

Kalidas said that Ganapathy’s death means the need for the formation of the IPCMC is now greater than ever, so as to act as an external and independent civilian oversight body to investigate complaints about police personnel and to clothe it with disciplinary authority.

“The current Independent Police Conduct Commission Bill proposed by the government lacks the bite to ensure genuine and independent transparency and accountability in the force. Custodial deaths and prison practices require root and branch reform of key aspects of our criminal justice system,” he said.

The Bar also reiterated its support for introduction of an independent Coroners Act in relation to deaths under suspicious circumstances.

“Such an Act would serve to strengthen the role of Coroners through fundamental structural reforms, including the ability to supervise and direct comprehensive investigations to determine the cause of death and to provide greater clarity in its inquiry processes. 

“There should be no further delay in the enactment of such a Coroners Act.  The questions surrounding Ganapathy’s death make the need for IPCMC and the independent Coroners Act all the more dire,” Kalidas said.

He said establishing the IPCMC and enacting an independent Coroners Act will not only ensure a transparent and accountable police force in Malaysia but will also strengthen public confidence in the police force.

According to the police report filed by Ganapathy’s mother, S. Thanaletchumy, 60, on March 11, her son had been arrested on February 24 to assist the police in the investigation into one of his brothers.

In the report she claimed that Ganapathy was in relatively good health at the time of his arrest, despite a medical history of heart problems and diabetes.

On March 8, Thanaletchumy and her family were contacted by the police and informed that Ganapathy had been released, and had been admitted to Selayang Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.

During his stay, Ganapathy was confirmed to have kidney problems, and his leg had to be amputated as well.

Thanaletchumy’s report also claimed that her son had been beaten during his time in custody, which resulted in the amputation.

She also claimed Ganapathy had told her that he was beaten with a rubber hose by the police. His family claimed the deceased’s health deteriorated as a result of the beatings, and that his legs were swollen and bruised as though he had been beaten.

Ganapathy’s death on April 18 occurred just over a month after he was first warded. He leaves behind two children aged five and seven.

The police have since denied assaulting Ganapathy while in custody, and warned the public against making any comments on the matter deemed critical to the force or risk getting prosecuted for it.