KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--Seven persons died in police custody in the first 5 weeks of 2022 . We know this thanks to an announcement practice introduced by PDRM this year.

Credit for the practice must be given to the public who pressed for reform of PDRM. Public pressure led to the creation of a special unit to “investigate” deaths in police custody. The unit began operations in January this year.

Unit Siasatan Jenayah dan Kematian dalam Tahanan (USJKT), is in the Integrity and Standards Department (JIPS), PDRM Headquarters, Bukit Aman. The Director of JIPS is CP Dato’ Azri bin Ahmad. We commend him for rapidly announcing the seven deaths.

According to his announcements, two of the victims expired in hospitals. We hope this does not mean PDRM evades responsibility for these deaths.

Do the unit’s formation and the string of announcements show the public that PDRM is serious about ending deaths in police custody?

The numbers are shocking. The announcements raise many questions.

Question One. No deaths by police shootings have been reported. Has PDRM chosen to exclude such shootings from the scope of the unit?

Question Two. In the first five weeks of this year, as many people have died in police lockups as in all of 2021. Did PDRM under-report deaths in police custody in 2021?

Question Three. Why has PDRM withheld the names of the victims?

Question Four. Has PDRM informed the victims’ families? (A brother of December 2021 victim Kumar Selvadurai has lodged a police report claiming the police did not inform Kumar’s family of his death .)

Question Five. Has PDRM counselled the victims’ families about next steps in the investigations of the deaths?

Question Six. PDRM has revealed that in one of the cases, two detainees and two officers were remanded for investigation. Their remands expired on 20 January. Has anyone been charged?

Question Seven. Has PDRM treated anyone as suspects in the other six cases?

Question Eight. Will completed Investigation Reports be submitted to the coroner within one month of each death, per CID Directive No. 10/2004, as promised by the then IGP to the Dzaiddin Police Reform commission?

Question Nine. Has the Chemistry Department committed to fast-tracking all analyses related to deaths in custody?  (Since post-mortem reports cannot be completed without laboratory analysis results.)

Question Ten. Why is there a lack of consistency in the announcements? For instance, the ethnicity of victims has been revealed only in four of the seven announcements and remand dates have not been released for the sixth victim.

Question Eleven. Why do the announcements give prominence to crimes the victims are alleged to have committed? We remind JIPS that persons are innocent until proven guilty. We urge JIPS to say in every statement that no one should die in police custody.

Question Twelve. Will PDRM ask coroners to conduct inquests into all deaths in custody?  (Section 334 of the Criminal Procedure Code mandates that every death in police custody must be intimated to a coroner , .)

In light of public concern over deaths in custody, we urge the Attorney General to exercise his power under section 339 of the CPC  to direct coroners to conduct inquiries into every death in custody.

Serious efforts must be made to restore public confidence in PDRM. There are three critical components to success. Without these components, USJKT will be just another cosmetics kit to cover-up serious failings.

First, complete transparency about deaths in custody. Such transparency will send a message to senior police officers to limit detentions, prioritize spending in detention facilities and services, and ensure effective supervision and training of officers responsible for detainees’ welfare, as required by the Police Act, section 20(3)(m) .

Second, the vast majority of deaths in custody must result in PDRM officers being subjected rapidly to disciplinary or criminal sanctions.

Third, investigations must be conducted by an independent commission such as the IOPC (England and Wales), commended in the Parliamentary Special Select Committee report on the IPCMC bill (2019). CAGED continues to reject investigations of deaths in PDRM custody by PDRM.