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Another custodial death, questions abound

Posted by chaanakyan on January 9, 2008

Fauwaz Abdul Aziz | Dec 21, 07 6:36pm
How many more deaths in custody will it take before the authorities set up a credible and effective mechanism to look into claims of – and punish – misconduct by police personnel?
This was the question raised by the Police Watch and Human Rights Committee (Police Watch) in response to the death of 30-year old palm oil worker K Letchumanan last Tuesday.

Police Watch coordinator B Chandran said “nothing less than” an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) – or its credible equivalent – can reduce the abuses and discipline the police or other enforcement personnel.

“There’s nothing better than the IPCMC, because the police really need to be disciplined,” he said when contacted today.

He called for an immediate inquest to be held into Letchumanan’s death.

Police Watch legal advisor N Surendran said Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Musa Hassan has to order an immediate investigation into Letchumanan’s death and charge those responsible.

“While the government and the police say there is no need for an IPCMC, assaults and other abuses are continuing at the ground level,” he said.

Chandran and Surendran were speaking on the heels of reports that Letchumanan, a father of six from Gali estate near Raub, Pahang, died in his cell on Dec 18.

‘Hanged himself with a blanket’

Letchumanan was arrested last Friday and detained together with his friend, M Kanniyappan, 38, for suspected involvement in the theft of grass-cutting machines. Kanniyappan was released four days later.

According to the police, Letchumanan died by hanging himself with a blanket. The police claimed that the post-mortem report revealed the same.

Letchumanan’s family members claimed that they were not informed of his arrest and only knew of his death when police officers told them Friday evening.

“They are not satisfied with the explanation of the police. Letchumanan had six children to take care of. How could he have suddenly taken his own life like that?” said the family’s neighbour B Subramaniam, 45, when contacted.

Letchumanan’s sister Sarasvathy Thevi, 32, lodged a police report on Wednesday and requested the state police chief to investigate the circumstances surrounding her brother’s death.

The family is waiting for the findings of a second post-mortem report after they rejected the first.

Adding to the questions, Surendran claimed that the Raub police station has closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras.

“Leaving aside the allegation Letchumanan was assaulted to death, there’s a CCTV system in the lock-up. What were the police doing while Letchumanan was said to have hanged himself?” asked the lawyer.

“At the least, there was gross negligence on the part of the police for allowing this to happen,” he said.

Friend: He was ‘threatened’

Strengthening the family’s suspicions of foul play, Letchumanan’s friend Kanniyappan also lodged a police report alleging he had witnessed Letchumanan being threatened by police officers on the day he died.

According to Kanniyappan, both he and Letchumanan were taken by the police to Gali estate in search of the stolen grass-cutting machines.

Having failed to recover the items, Letchumanan was allegedly verbally abused and warned that he would be “beaten until half-dead”, said Kanniyappan in the police report lodged yesterday.

“I do not believe that Letchumanan killed himself as claimed by the police,” he said further.

Kanniyappan alleged that he was also assaulted during his four-day detention. “I was kicked four times on the chest and stomach and slapped on the cheek.”

Contacted later, Raub district police chief Wan Mohd Shamsuddin Wan Osman declined to comment.

“I cannot comment on the case right now. Investigations are ongoing. If I say anything, it may jeopardise everything,” he said. DAP leader Ronnie Liu, who met with Wan Mohd earlier this week, has vowed to bring the matter up with other DAP leaders and lawyers for further action.

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