THE death of Selangor government aide Teoh Beng Hock on 16 July 2009 quickly turned into political capital.
Memorials organised by the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) have the air of a partisan roadshow, where attendees are urged to overthrow the Barisan Nasional (BN) in the next general election. Attempting to control perception, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has promised Teoh’s parents — and, presumably, voters — that “no stone will be left unturned in finding out the real cause of death.”
Meanwhile, the BN-controlled Malay-language press has racialised the issue. A blog of dubious credentials, Truth for Teoh Beng Hock, is hitting out at Selangor DAP elected representatives for alleged corruption.
Amid this carnival, the Civil Rights Committee (CRC) of the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH) organised a memorial of its own.
Supported by the Justice for Comrade Beng Hock and 1BLACKMalaysia Facebook groups, the 29 July 2009 gathering was billed as a “time of humane reflection” where there would be “no religious ceremony” and “no political speech”.
It placed Teoh’s death in the context of deaths in custody: as one out of 1,805 tragedies that have happened in police lock-ups, prisons, and detention camps since 2003. This translates into 23 deaths every month, or three custodial deaths every four days — making Teoh’s death just one of many troubling incidents that have gone mostly unnoticed.
“Some of us were not particularly impressed by the way political parties were handling the memorials [for Teoh],” political scientist and activist Wong Chin Huat, one of the event organisers, told The Nut Graph. “What we see here is a human issue, beyond partisan politics.
“Teoh was almost a model citizen. But even if someone is a car thief, no one deserves such death.”
The statistics are rather frightening. Is there a source/reference for the statistics?
According to Wong Chin Huat, one of the memorial’s organisers, the 1,805-death figure is sourced from Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)’s records of deaths in detention.
Suaram’s Tah Moon Hui was kind enough to furnish us with the breakdown of the numbers:
On 8 July 2008, Deputy Home Minister Wan Fairuz Wan Salleh told Parliament that 1,531 custodial deaths were recorded between 2003 and 2007.
“According to official government statistics cited in Suaram’s report, there were 13 cases of deaths in police custody in 2008, while 255 deaths were recorded in prisons in the same year,” as per a Suaram press release detailing its 2008 Human Rights Report.
Yet another six cases this year, which Suaram has been tracking through news reports.