The Home Minister Hamzah Zanudin announced yesterday, 6 December, that a special panel has been established to investigate deaths in police custody – beginning 1 January next year.
Called the Custodial Death Crime Investigation Unit, it will comprise 12 uniformed officers and one member of the public, while being parked under police headquarters’ integrity department.
“The investigations will focus on criminal elements, identification of subjects, negligence of police officers and adherence to SOPs as well as orders issued to the officers,” he told Free Malaysia Today.
This panel comes after growing criticism of the police’s treatment of detainees by rights groups and members of the public, particularly after six Indian men were found dead within three months this year, reported Vice.
However, Hamzah denied that the deaths were racially motivated, stating that of the 82 deaths reported since 2015, 42 were Malay, 15 Indian, 13 Chinese, and 12 foreign nationals.
“The issue of custodial deaths does not impact one particular race or gender, which is often claimed by certain parties.”
Meanwhile, pressure group Eliminating Deaths & Abuse In Custody Together (EDICT) welcomed the move, saying that the panel is a starting point for reforms.
“The establishment of a special unit under Bukit Aman is consistent with what we have been fighting for all this time, and that is for deaths which occur in a lockup isn’t investigated by the same station where it occurred,” read a statement.
“Investigations like the one previously are seen as unfair, unreasonable, and most definitely won’t have the confidence of the public. As such, EDICT welcomes this new special unit at this time.”
Other activists however aren’t convinced, with Rama Ramanathan of Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances saying that the panel will only worsen the problem.
“Those on this panel will learn not to make the mistakes made by their colleagues in covering up. They would end up becoming ‘specialists’ in cover-ups. The home ministry has given the police a ‘cosmetic kit’ for them to commit cover-ups,” said Rama to Free Malaysia Today.
“That power and responsibility should be given to an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC),” he said.
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) executive director Sevan Doraisamy also weighed in, describing the taskforce as “going to be a failure”.