Activist: 1,805 custodial deaths not exaggerated

By Joseph Kaos Jr, The Malay Mail

PETALING JAYA: Prominent lawyer-activist Haris Ibrahim has defended the figure of 1,805 custodial deaths which activists claimed had occurred from 2003-2009 in the country, insisting the numbers were not exaggerated.

“The figure of 1,805 custodial deaths was first raised during Teoh Beng Hock’s memorial at the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall last year,” Haris told The Malay Mail.

“A slideshow tribute on the 1,805 lives lost while in detention was screened during the memorial. There were special branch police officers around then. If there was any qualms about this figure, why haven’t the authorities questioned the campaign organisers on it all these while?”

Last week, Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein had blasted the claim in Parliament, saying various figures had been quoted to create a perception that many lives were lost in the hands of Malaysian authorities.

A non-governmental organisation, Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM), had claimed in its blog site that 1,805 people had died during the period. They had also organised a memorial service last week to pay tribute to those they claimed had died while under police custody.

Haris said the campaign was initiated because of the lack of transparency on custodial deaths in the country.

“These 1,805 people reportedly died while in the custody of the authorities, but the public is left with the barest of details on their deaths.

“Most of these detainees who died were unknown and died as John Does. Why are we all left completely in the dark on this?”

Haris said there was also a cause of concern, even if the number of deaths was lower. “Let’s say the figures are wrong and it is only 15. Should we still not be concerned over 15 custodial deaths?”

Last Friday, in conjunction with Teoh’s death anniversary, SABM had held a memorial in Kuala Lumpur and attendees threw flowers into the Klang River as a tribute to the 1,805 lives allegedly lost.

SABM had claimed these 1,805 individuals died between 2003 and July 16 last year — when Teoh was found dead at the MACC building in Shah Alam after he had been called in the day earlier for questioning in relation to some corruption allegations.

The figure was supposedly obtained from July 8, 2008 when former Deputy Home Minister Wan Fairuz Wan Salleh told Parliament that 1,531 individuals died in custody between 2003 and 2007, while the extra figures were provided by Suara Rakyat Malaysia.

Meanwhile, it was learned yesterday that a police report had been lodged on Tuesday evening against Haris. Putrajaya police chief Supt Abdul Razak Abdul Majid confirmed the report, but declined to reveal the details nor the identity of the person.

When asked, Haris said the police had yet to inform him about the report and he had learned of it only from The Malay Mail.

“My lawyers have since contacted the police and have informed them I am willing to be called up for questioning,” said Haris, adding the police have yet to inform his lawyers on details of the report.

“I really don’t know what it’s about. I wrote many things in my blog and it could be on anything.”