MALAYSIA: Death in police custody, investigation hampered


Urgent Appeal Case: UA-36-2002
ISSUES: Death in custody,

Mass arrest operation against gangsters; Alleged mistreatment and torture of detainees

MALAYSIA: Death in police custody, investigation hampered


– Name of the victim: Mr. S. Tharma Rajen, 20, a waiter from Kuala Lumpur

– Date of death: 21 June 2002

– Place of death: Putrajaya hospital, following transfer from Putrajaya lockup on 9 June 2002

– Official cause of death: pneumonia; independent post-mortem later said tuberculosis

– In custody from: 3 April 2002


Mr. S. Tharma Rajen, a previously healthy young man, died mysteriously in police custody on 21 June, and investigations into the death have thus far been hampered. The cause of death listed on the death certificate based on the official post-mortem was pneumonia. An independent post-mortem by the University Malaya Medical Centre later said he had died from tuberculosis. However, this second report also said that there were signs of malnourishment after Tharma Rajen¡¯s months in police custody.

Members of his family suggested also the possibility of police torture. According to reports in Malaysiakini, Asokan, brother of Tharma Rajen, visited the hospital morgue with the family’s lawyer to identify the body. He told reporters, “His lips were cut and there were blood stains on the sides of his mouth. There was also a cut measuring two inches just above his anus.” Asokan also said that at an earlier meeting with him, Tharma Rajen had told him that the police had beaten him on his legs and the soles of his feet.

Tharma Rajen was arrested as part of a massive operation against gangsters called Operation Copperhead. Unfortunately, sources say, in the process of arresting known wanted men, police have arrested other young Indian men who fit the general profile. Many of those arrested are poor and not well educated and have little or no access to legal assistance. Some arrested in this operation, including Tharma Rajen, have been detained under provisions in Malaysia’s Internal Security Act or Emergency Ordinance that allow an initial detention by the police for 60 days without charge, which the Minister can later extend.

There have also been other recent deaths in police custody. There have been other allegations of mistreatment and torture of detainees. Many detainees have been held for long periods without contact with family members, medical personnel, or lawyers.

SUHAKAM, Malaysia’s National Human Rights Commission, has now launched an investigation into Tharma Rajen¡¯s death. It was apparently able to get a copy of the post-mortem report only in early August. Tharma Rajen¡¯s family had been trying to get the official post-mortem report for over a month.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) wants to point to the need for accountability and a transparent investigation on this matter. The signs of possible police abuse are disturbing. Even if Tharma Rajen died of pneumonia or tuberculosis, there still needs to be an explanation as to why he did not receive medical care early enough and as to whether other detainees have been properly screened for contagious diseases. On international human rights standards, persons in detention have the right to be treated humanely, and the corollary right to appropriate medical treatment. The AHRC is concerned about the apparent denial of these rights to Tharma Rajen.


Please write to Malaysia’s Inspector-General of Police, Minister of Home Affairs, and Human Rights Commission to call for accountability and transparent investigations into the death in custody of Tharma Rajen and others who have died in Malaysian police custody.



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Re: The death in custody of Mr. Tharma Rajen

I write to express my extreme concern about the death in Malaysian police custody of Mr. Tharma Rajen on 21 June and the difficulties there have been with investigations into this death.

The death of this previously healthy young man was in mysterious circumstances. The two post-mortems did not reach the same conclusion. There were also indications that the police had mistreated Mr. Tharma Rajen. In any case, the police did not get him medical treatment soon enough to save his life.

International human rights standards require the humane treatment of persons in custody, including the provision of appropriate medical treatment. In the circumstances, there needs to be accountability and a transparent investigation. I understand the Human Rights Commission is now investigating, though it had difficulties getting access to the post-mortem report. I hope the police will also investigate fully and that the investigations will be open and confront all the issues.

I urge you to do all you can to support accountability for whatever has happened and to ensure openness in the investigations into the deaths of Mr. Tharma Rajen and others who have died in police custody.

Thank you for your attention.



Tan Sri Norian Mai

The Inspector General of Police

Bukit Aman

50560 Kuala Lumpur


Tel: 603 2273 1326

Fax: 603 2272 2710

Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi

Minister of Home Affairs

Pusat Pentadbiran Kerajann Persekutuan

65202 Putrajaya


Tel: 603 8888 1952

Fax: 603 8886 8014

Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman

Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia

Tingkat 29, Menara Tun Razak

Jalan Raja Laut

50350 Kuala Lumpur


Tel: 603 2612 5600

Fax: 603 2612 5620


Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : UA-36-2002
Countries : Malaysia,
Issues : Death in custody,