Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Kugan buried: questions linger - Malaysiakini

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 28 — Suspected car thief A. Kugan was finally buried at 5.30pm today after mourners circled his casket and conducted last rites at the Puchong Batu 14 cemetery, eight days after his death in a police station reignited a public outcry about custodial deaths.

The 22-year-old was laid to rest after his hearse and thousands of mourners travelled 20km through hot sun and driving rain from the University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) to the USJ8 police station where he died before finally making its way to the cemetery.

The Selangor government has undertaken the costs of the funeral on "humanitarian grounds", Kapar MP S. Manickavasagam said, adding he had thanked Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim for the gesture.

During the funeral procession, thousands of mourners who accompanied his grieving family and several lawmakers had shouted "Polis Pembunuh" and "We want Justice" with some unfurling banners that said "Polis Pembunuh Berlesen".

The crowd slowed traffic in Puchong and brought it to a standstill in front of the USJ8 police station where a police helicopter hovered overhead during brief family prayers.

The crowd also shouted the name of Hindraf leader P. Uthayakumar and the outlawed organisation before leaving the police station as police watched but did not take action.

"The attendance shows the outrage of the public. I hope the Barisan Nasional government takes heed," said Sivarasa Rasiah, who is Subang MP, while joining the funeral procession.

"Eleven (policemen) have been identified but no arrest. This is telling the public that there is a double standard when investigating policemen," he added.

Despite some antagonism from the crowd, police had provided escort for the procession that began from the University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) at 1.45pm. During the journey to the police station, the crowd had cheered the police "Polis bagi escort" while others blasted the police, shouting "Polis pembunuh Kugan".

Police had earlier arrested five men wearing Hindraf T-shirts as they threw a tight cordon around the medical centre for the suspected car thief's funeral. They only allowed some 50 people, including family and several lawmakers, to claim Kugan's body.

Lawyer Gobind Singh Deo said family and friends paid respects at the mortuary five at a time. Police had earlier chased away reporters and nearly 100 supporters around the mortuary waiting to pay respects.

The Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) and Light Strike Force had cordoned off the teaching hospital this morning but crowds, responding to text messages, have turned up for the funeral procession. Several tried to go through the barricade but police ordered them to disperse.

Police arrested two men when the crowd was dispersing just after noon. The government had banned the Hindraf movement last year, making all its symbols illegal, after it organised a massive protest in November 2007. Five Hindraf leaders are under ISA detention.

Another two were arrested later for inciting the crowd, police said. They also wore Hindraf T-shirts.

The latest arrest is Hindraf legal adviser R.S. Thanendran, who also wore a Hindraf T-shirt.

"I don't see why anyone has been arrested. We are not here to make trouble," Gobind, who is also Puchong MP, told reporters.

"They are just here to pay last respects," said Kapar MP S. Manikavasagam, who said he will lodge a police report against Selangor police chief Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar for making conflicting statements over Kugan's death.

Kugan, a 22-year-old insurance claims executive, was arrested on Jan 14 for allegedly being involved in a luxury car-theft ring. He died on Jan 20 after drinking some water, police claimed. An initial autopsy said he died of "fluid in the lungs".

But the Attorney-General's Chambers has classified the case as murder after an outcry by the family and lawmakers, and a second autopsy over the weekend found external injuries and phlegm in his lungs.

The family and authorities are waiting for detailed toxicological and tissue tests in the final autopsy report.

Critics have said Kugan's death is the latest in custody deaths in Malaysia, mostly among Indians detained by police.

In 2007, then Internal Security Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had stated there were 106 deaths in custody between 2000 and 2006. No updated statistics have been issued since then.

Lawyer N Surendan disagreed that it was a racial issue, saying it affected all Malaysians. "Deaths in detention happen to all races," he said.

Eleven police personnel from the USJ8 Taipan police station have been transferred to desk duties pending the outcome of the investigations. A special police team from the Bukit Aman federal headquarters is probing the case and authorities expect to make charges within a week. - By Shannon Teoh and Neville Spykerman (MalaysiaInsider)

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