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“Independent body needed to ensure police act and function within the ambit of the law” – Ramasamy

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Custodial deaths of Ganapathy and Sivabalan are neither the first nor the last. There is no end to deaths in custody in the country. The latest victim of custodial death in the infamous Gombak police station was one S. Sivabalan, a security guard.

Just less a month a ago, in the same police station, a cow milk trader, A. Ganapathy died in police custody. He was alleged to have been beaten by policemen while in custody. A charge that has been denied vehemently by the Gombak police chief Arifai Tarawe.

In fact, Arifai was so upset with two Free Malaysia Today (FMT) articles on the death of Ganapathy that he sent legal notice to the publication for defamation. He said that the online portal had defamed him, as though he was responsible over the death of Ganapathy.

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Hardly a month has passed, there is another sudden death in the Gombak police station.
Sivabalan was arrested on May 20, 2021, and brought to the Gombak police station at 11.20am. He was kept in custody.

Sivabalan was arrested for an earlier extortion case. After experiencing breathing difficulties, Sivabalan died around 12.20pm, even though the Selayang Hospital medical emergency team failed to revive him.

According to Arifai, Sivabalan had a history of heart disease. He had two criminal records, one for drugs and the other for a criminal offence. There is no way that the statement of Arifai could be verified.

Since he has been very defensive of the police, it is doubtful whether he can be a reliable witness as what really transpired in the death of Sivabalan. There have been too many deaths in custody in the country, not just in the police stations but also in prisons.

Under the present circumstances, there is no way that the public can subject the police to take responsibility over their actions. There are no institutionalised mechanisms in place to probe the police for misconduct.

It is a forgone conclusion that the police cannot investigate themselves.  An independent body is needed to ensure that the police act and function within the ambit of the law. The police might give all kinds of excuses, but the fact remains that the police are responsible for remnand prisoners who die under their custody.

Ganapathy and Sivabalan are not going to be the last persons to die in custody. They were not the first nor they are going to be the last. Invariably those who have died in custody were members of the working class, immaterial of their ethnic or religious origins.
However, as there are more and more deaths of Indians in custody, members of the working class, suggests that that there growing perception that Indians have a natural affinity with crime.

The myth of Indians association with crime must be demolished. If not, the criminalisation of Indians might go unchecked with dangerous consequences.

The Malaysian police might be educated and professionals in discharging their responsibilities.

But there are personnel in the police force accustomed to the old ways in eliciting information about crimes and those involved.

Thus, eliciting information forcibly and roughly are the major cause of deaths in custody.
Moreover, the belief among police personnel that they are immune from prosecution and punishment refrains some section of the police from acting in a responsible manner.