Some solace for Kugan’s family, but human rights record still on the line


The AG’s decision was welcomed by some civil groups, who say the surprise recapitulation gives Kugan’s family some measure of justice.

But Malaysia’s human rights record is still on the line. And others remain unconvinced, asking if it was necessary for the government to wait until a life was taken before it acted …

By Wong Choon Mei, Suara Keadilan

Amid a blaze of public anger and increasingly strident calls from the opposition, led by Anwar Ibrahim, for fair and independent investigation into the death of 22-year old police detainee, Kugan Ananthan, Malaysia’s attorney-general has decided to reclassify the case as murder.

Given the police’s defensive stance and reluctance to allow a second post-mortem, the surprise recapitulation was welcomed by some civil groups.

“The public confidence in the police and the government will gain some ground after this announcement from the AG,” said Ramon Navaratnam, president of Transparency International Malaysia.

“We hope from here on, Malaysian police will adhere to international standards. They are supposed to set an example, they represent and enforce the law. As such, their behaviour and conduct must be beyond reproach and acceptable to the people.

“After all, why should the people abide by the law if the police themselves don’t bother to.”

Keeping up the pressure

Kugan, a suspected car thief, died five days after being arrested by police in Subang Jaya this week. His family claim he was tortured, and photos and video footage of his body have shown signs of extensive bruising.

The police, initially adamant that he died of ‘water in his lungs’, have ordered an investigation to appease the public uproar that ensued.

Accompanied by Indian politicians from both sides of the political divide, Kugan’s family handed over a memorandum addressed to the Inspector-General of Police Musa Hassan, demanding that a second and independently-carried-out autopsy be done.

Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, who himself was badly battered during police detention, also stepped up the pressure, promising to take the matter to Parliament.

“The repeat of such incidents will definitely erode the people’s confidence in the credibility of the police force as a security agency,” Anwar said.

“To restore the people’s confidence, we demand an independent and transparent investigation body be formed to investigate the death of Kugan Ananthan.”

Under scrutiny by the international community

There were also some who believed the AG would not have reclassified the case as murder if the  country’s human rights record was not due to be scrutinised by the United Nations Human Rights Council next month.

“We have lost all faith and confidence that the police can conduct a fair investigation,” said Parti Sosialis Malaysia secretary-general S Arutchelvan.

“The failure of the government to immediately redress this issue would be seen as a blatant act of negligence on the part of the government to protect its citizen.”

Arutchelvan urged the government to immediately form an independent police complaints and misconduct commission.

Police reform bill to be tabled in February

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, due to step down in March, has promise to table new law in Parliament next month, that should see the establishment of a special complaints commission to monitor and investigate complaints of misconduct by the police and other law enforcement officers.

Nevertheless, civil groups and opposition politicians are worried the outgoing PM will not be able to garner enough support from his own political coalition to push through an effective and long-overdue solution.

They believe the 68-year old is likely to rush through another watered-down version that will not capture key recommendations of a 2005 Royal Commission of Inquiry on police abuse of power and corruption.

Civil groups have previously said the independence of any monitoring commission was all important.

In particular, they are concerned about who will be the commissioners that sit on the decision-making panel, who would appoint and dismiss them, and also if the commission would be empowered to oversee the police investigation into complaints.

They also said the appointment of the Inspector-General of Police to such a commission, as was previously proposed, would skewer its independence and defeat the purpose of such a bureau.