As another death has occurred in the custody of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), the Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy condemns the third custodial death case at the MACC.
We are gravely disappointed that there is still a lack of meaningful reform after the death of Teoh Beng Hock under the MACC, and would like to emphasise the importance of the safeguards and rights of the detainees.
The victim was arrested by MACC and believed to be a suspect involved in illegal mining in the state of Pahang. According to reports, the victim was sent to Hospital Putrajaya by MACC when he was found to be feeling ill. However, according to the chief commissioner of MACC, Azam Baki, the victim passed away while receiving treatment at the hospital.
Firstly, we strongly believe that the MACC chief is not in a legal position to attempt to give an explanation of the incident or to hastily conclude the cause of death. It should have been the duty of the police and Coroner's Court to establish the truth behind the case, to ensure full transparency.
Most of all, as the chief of MACC, any explanation from Azam of a death that happened under his supervision should not be taken as conclusive evidence in the name of impartiality. Echoing the views of Lawyers for Liberty, we therefore form the conclusion that the MACC chief had "no business rushing into conclusions or explaining the cause of death".
Secondly, whenever a death in custody occurs, we also notice that enforcement officials have the tendency to push the "responsibility" to the hospital. The language that Azam has employed – where MACC officials first found the victim to be unwell and he subsequently passed away in hospital – is too similar to the numerous deaths that occurred in police custody. The causal explanation where the detainee passed away while receiving treatment does not do justice to the family and would cause the public to lose confidence in MACC.
Given that there were two custodial death cases at MACC in the past 14 years – Teoh and Ahmad Sarbani – and the conclusion of the Court of Appeal that there was a pre-fall injury on the neck of Teoh and that one or more unknown persons caused his death, the police must conduct a thorough investigation of the new custodial death case, including from the angle of torture leading to death. The police must not be misled by Azam that the decreased died of natural sickness.
For the public to continue having faith in MACC, the investigations must be impartial and transparent to uncover the truth behind. Justice must also be done where firm action needs to be taken if there was foul play involved in the latest death under MACC supervision.
While MACC has recently shown itself to be fearless in performing its anti-corruption duty where action has been taken even against a former prime minister, MACC still falls behind in observing and respecting the rights of detainees. We are shocked to hear from MACC deputy director Wan Shaharuddin Wan Ladin that the right to legal representation does not apply to those who are summoned by MACC as witnesses.
Lest we forget, this is the same excuse that was employed by the officials of MACC when they refused Teoh's request for legal representation. The tragic death of Teoh should be a lesson and opportunity for MACC to revise its SOPs and ensure that the right to legal representation is observed, to protect both the detainee and public faith in MACC. Even after 14 years, MACC refuses to acknowledge, never mind reform, this practice which contravenes the Federal Constitution.
We demand that the Pakatan Harapan-led government seriously consider reforming the MACC and ensure that its anti-corruption crusade does not run afoul of human rights principles. The right to legal representation and freedom from torture must be guaranteed, and officers violating the rights of detainees must be brought to justice.
More urgently, justice must be done and seen to be done. The police must investigate the truth behind the latest death in custody under MACC and action must be taken if there was foul play behind it.
The culture of impunity of MACC can only be eliminated if the government takes bold action on previous custodial deaths cases at MACC, including Teoh and Sabarni, and prosecutes the related officers in accordance with the law.
Ng Yap Hwa is chairman of the Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.