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Death Of 21-Year-Old Malaysian-Indian Marks 3rd Death In Police Custody In Recent Weeks

Surendran Shanker's case is currently classified as sudden death. The hospital where he died, however, is now refusing to release the remains of the victim to his family on grounds that he died of COVID-19.

Cover image via Malaysiakini & The Vibes

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On the morning of Thursday 27 May, a 21-year-old Malaysian-Indian in police custody died due to "septic shock with multiple organ failure".

Arrested in June last year, the young man was being held at Simpang Renggam prison under a law that allows for detention without trial.

Identified as Surendran Shanker, he died in Kluang Hospital, Johor, barely four weeks after he was transferred to the Simpang Renggam prison on 25 April, according to a report in Free Malaysia Today.

The report cited a police report lodged by a prison official, in which the official claimed a doctor at the hospital said Surendran Shanker had died at around 12.30am of "septic shock with multiple organ failure".

The Star quoted Kluang district police chief ACP Low Hang Seng as saying that Surendran was taken to the hospital on 25 May for treatment after experiencing fever, cough, and vomiting.

"A post-mortem was conducted by the hospital's forensic department on Friday evening. The results are pending as several specimens have to be sent to the laboratory to find out the cause of death," he said.

According to him, the case was currently classified as sudden death.

His family, however, alleges that foul play was involved.

"We feel there is foul play involved as Surendran had no health issues. He was only 21," said Surendran's mother, Kumatameri Asirvatham.

Kumatameri said that while she has to accept that her son is gone, she feels there is injustice.

According to her, she received a call at around 4.30pm on Wednesday, 26 May from a Simpang Renggam prison official who informed her that her son had "severe pain in his stomach".

Kumatameri then called the hospital, which told her that Surendran was in "critical condition" and asked the family to call back later in the night and talk to a doctor who could provide more details.

At around 8pm the same day, when Surendran's cousin, Surenthar Richard, called the Kluang hospital, he was told that Surendran's condition had worsened. On their next call at around 1.15am, 27 May, a police officer informed Surendran's cousin that he had died at around 12.30am.

Surendran, who was arrested in Petaling Jaya in June last year for a drug-related offence, was remanded for four days before being detained under the Prevention of Crime Act (POCA) 1959.

At the time of his arrest, Surendran was 20 years old and was sent to the Muar rehabilitation centre in August last year, which was when his family saw him last.

After he turned 21 in January this year, he was transferred to the Simpang Renggam prison.

21-year-old Surendran Shanker.

Image via Free Malaysia Today

Surendran's death is the third death in police custody in recent weeks

Barely a week before Surendran's death on 27 May, a security guard named Sivabalan Subramaniam died less than an hour after entering the Gombak police station on 20 May.

According to a report in The Vibes, the 3-year-old security guard's family was informed by the police that he died due to breathing difficulties and that the case has been classified as sudden death.

An autopsy conducted on Sivabalan stated that he died due to a heart attack.

Selangor police chief Arjunaidi Mohamed cited the post-mortem report to say that it found that Sivabalan did not suffer from any physical injuries, adding that his family has been informed of the cause of his death.

Sivabalan's death came less than a month after cow milk trader A Ganapathy's death.

Ganapathy, too, died while in the custody of the Gombak police headquarters on 18 April.

The 40-year-old Malaysian-Indian succumbed to his injuries after fighting for his life since 8 March in Selayang Hospital's intensive care unit. The victim had spent 12 days in police custody from 24 February to 8 March before he was admitted to the hospital, according to a Malaysiakini report.

His family alleges that police had beaten him with a rubber hose and that they were barred from seeing him when his sister went to the police station to deliver medicines for his diabetes and heart problems.

However, district police chief ACP Arifai Tarawe rubbished the family's allegations.

According to him, Ganapathy was brought before the Magistrates' Court three times on 25 February, 2, and 6 March, and taken to the hospital four times to treat an old injury on 28 February, 3, 6, and 7 March.

This proves that the victim had opportunities to speak up about the alleged torture, Arifai said, but never mentioned to the judge or to the medical personnel that he was beaten in police custody.

Meanwhile, the Kluang Hospital is now refusing to release the remains of Surendran to his family on grounds that he died of COVID-19

Free Malaysia Today reported on Friday night, 28 May, that the hospital's refusal has caused the family to feel as if there is something amiss in the case.

"It does not make sense at all. If he tested positive, the hospital could have sealed his casket to prevent the virus from spreading Something is clearly not right here," the family's lawyer K Ganesh said.

According to Ganesh, Surendran's family only wanted his remains returned to them and that they will be lodging a police report and demand that a second post-mortem is conducted.

These recent custodial deaths have prompted many including Batu Kwan Member of Parliament (MP) Kasthuri Patto to question what is the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) doing exactly

In a media statement, Kasthuri asked if the commission will be launching an investigation, or whether there were "hidden hands" that prevented it from conducting an independent probe into the custodial deaths.

"There must be no stumbling block whether from within or out to influence, pressure, divert, and determine the outcome of the investigations by the EAIC into these deaths," Batu Kwan MP said.

She asked the commission, which is the sole body to investigate any misconduct or abuses of power by the police, immigration, and other agencies in the country, to ditch the defensive attitude on custodial deaths and address it with the seriousness that a life was lost under the authority of the police.

Following Kasthuri's statement, the EAIC said that it takes seriously the reported cases of deaths in custody and that a study is ongoing and the findings will be given to the government once it is completed.

Recently, family members of 22 inmates detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA) claimed that their next of kin are being brutally assaulted in the Jelebu Prison, Negeri Sembilan

Read more about Ganapathy's case here:

Brutality in detention centres is not uncommon in Malaysia, especially involving Malaysian-Indians. Read more about past cases:

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