Custodial deaths outrage Protestant group

(UCAN) – The youth wing of the Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) has expressed great concern over deaths in custody among various government branches.

The ecumenical youth organization issued a statement July 21 after a federal opposition party worker died recently while in the custody of an anti-corruption commission.

This is “but the latest of a growing list of deaths under detention or custody or police action,” the CCM Youth statement said. It also cited “deaths of undocumented migrants or detainees in rural police stations that we don’t hear about in the media.”

Quoting figures provided by the former deputy home minister, the statement noted 1,531 people died in custody from 2003 to 2007. Figures it presented from the Human Rights Council of Malaysia say that 1,300 foreign migrants died in detention centers in the past six years.

The case that triggered the statement was that of Teoh Beng Hock, 30, political secretary to a Selangor state assembly member from the Democratic Action Party.

Teoh was found dead on July 16 on a fifth-floor roof of a building in Shah Alam, the Selangor capital, near Kuala Lumpur. According to media reports, he had been questioned from 5 p.m. the previous evening until almost 4 a.m. that morning in an office of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, located on the 14th floor of the same building. The commission was investigating allegations that the assembly member had misappropriated funds.

Since the death, various websites and blogs have been abuzz with outrage, and vigils and rallies have been held all over the country.

The CCM Youth leaders said they are "not only horrified and outraged, but deeply ashamed and bewildered” at Teoh’s death “under dubious circumstances.”

Their statement demanded “a working public system to track such deaths.” Witnesses and detainees alike "should have the right to immediate legal representation,” it said, and “standard operating procedures for the protection of witnesses should be made available to the public.”

It thanked “the public, NGOs and media for keeping such issues alive,” but urged “politicians not to milk Teoh Beng Hock’s death for their own agenda.”

The statement calls on the government to urgently “bring the detention system up to basic standards of decency and fairness” and “hold all heads of departments to full accountability for all misdemeanors by their officers.”

It also asked Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak to lead the nation "to repentance before the Almighty God for the deaths of our young Malaysians in custody, poor treatment of migrants, lack of honesty in the government system, and the lack of love and care for the vulnerable.”

Chrisanne Chin, CCM Youth moderator, told UCA News the statement aims at telling the government it is high time to take serious action on the issue of custodial deaths, especially unnamed deaths.

She said issuing the statement is part of efforts by CCM Youth to promote advocacy work by young Christians and bring into the open issues that need urgent attention in the country.

The CCM is an ecumenical grouping of mainline Protestant Churches in Malaysia.

Meanwhile, an inquest into Teoh's death began on July 29, local media reported. A total of 77 witnesses are scheduled to testify in the inquest, slated to end on Aug. 12.