Bar Council, Suhakam back RCI with wider scope

By Debra Chong, The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 8 — The Bar Council and Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) have joined a growing chorus demanding the prime minister set up a royal commission to probe Teoh Beng Hock’s death and not limit its scope to anti-graft enforcement procedures. 

Datuk Seri Najib Razak had yesterday responded to public pressure and announced the setting up of a royal commission of inquiry (RCI) to review the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) procedures. 

The announcement came just days after a coroner’s court returned an open verdict in Teoh’s inquest. 

Coroner Azmil Muntapha Abas had ruled that the political aide who had been taken in as witness to help in an MACC investigation did not commit suicide. 

But the coroner also ruled out homicide despite accepting that Teoh had been injured while in the MACC’s care. 

The Teoh family’s lawyer, Gobind Singh Deo, had told a press conference yesterday that setting up an RCI without having it also investigate the circumstances surrounding Teoh’s death was meaningless and a waste of public funds. 

Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan (picture) echoed Gobind’s view. “The most important issue is he died while in MACC custody. The burden is on the MACC to explain what happened,” Ragunath told The Malaysian Insider

“Regarding culpability, it is important to understand that Teoh was a witness. Was he put under pressure during the interrogation? 

“MACC must take responsibility,” the Bar Council chief stressed. 

Ragunath, who had previously called the inquest “meaningless” after the coroner returned an open verdict, said the government owed the Teoh family closure. 

“The coroner ruled out homicide and ruled out suicide, so how did he die? They must come to a conclusion,” he said. Ragunath said when Najib spells out the terms of reference for the RCI, he must give it the power to look at the cause of death in Teoh’s case and the conduct of the MACC officers. 

The lawyer added that the Najib administration must empower the RCI to also look into the protocol of all enforcement bodies — not just the MACC’s — to prove the federal government seriously wanted to regain public confidence in public institutions. 

Suhakam commissioner Muhammad Sha’ani Abdullah also backed the call for an RCI with greater powers. 

“There should not be any limitations to the RCI’s scope of work… so its recommendations become a comprehensive guide to the MACC to move forward,” said the head of the commission’s complaints and inquiries section. 

“If they want to investigate the procedure — not the book procedures but test the real life procedures — they must go into detail. 

“If the findings incriminate MACC officers, it’ll help the government clean up the enforcement body,” he added. 

Like Ragunath, Muhammad Sha’ani pointed out Teoh was only a witness who had been called in to help the MACC’s investigations. 

The human rights fighter pointed to the lock-up rules and said that the law in criminal proceedings provided more protection to suspects than witnesses. 

“Now people are frightened of reporting; they won’t come forward to be whistleblowers.