Authorities must be swift in reacting to sudden death in custody


20 APRIL 2018


Amnesty International Malaysia is deeply concerned by the recent account of the death of Thanabalan Subramaniam, who died in police custody on April 17, 2018[1]. The organisation calls for a full inquiry into the latest death in custody, and immediately put in place measures to ensure that further deaths are prevented.

According to the statement by incumbent Kapar MP G Manivannan made on April 19, 2018, the post-mortem on Thanabalan could not confirm the cause of his death but there were no signs that he was subject to any physical abuse[2]. In addition to this, the Selangor police said they suspected that the centralised lock-up where the victim was being held had been contaminated by an infection.

“If the official version of events is true, the death of Thanabalan shows that the authorities, at the very least, are not proactive in ensuring that he received immediate and comprehensive medical treatment in case of an emergency or health hazard. His death also suggests that standard operating procedures put in place for these kind of situations may have been neglected. Hence, the authorities must take responsibility in answering for his death,” said Gwen Lee, Interim Executive Director, Amnesty International Malaysia.

The case further highlights a parliamentary response by Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi last year, that there were 1,654 cases of death in custody recorded in Malaysia between 2010 until February 2017. The Minister said that all the deaths occurred while the occupants were receiving treatment in hospital for various health problems.[3]

“Although the Minister mentioned last year that these deaths include diseases such as HIV, cancer, heart problem, TB and asthma, Amnesty Malaysia believes that there are still many cases of death in custody that are a result of police torture, inhuman and degrading treatment. These include the deaths of S. Balamurugan, N. Dharmendran, Karuna Nithi, C. Sugumar and Syed Mohd Azlan Syed Nur , cases in which there was evidence of torture but where no one has been charged or held responsible for their deaths to this day.” said Gwen Lee.

Amnesty International Malaysia is calling on for a full inquiry into the death of Thanabalan Subramaniam and for the authorities to take responsibility for negligence and the failure to act swiftly in ensuring he received immediate medical attention.

“We are also renewing our call to the government to establish an independent police oversight body to impartially, efficiently, thoroughly, and transparently investigate human rights violations. It is high time that Malaysian authorities wake up to such alarming figures of deaths in custody. For far too long, the families and victims of police violations have failed to receive justice and reparations,” said Gwen Lee.


Thanabalan, who was allegedly detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, or SOSMA, died at Hospital Shah Alam on April 17. 2018 after being rushed there from the Shah Alam police headquarters where he had been held for some 20 days. According to family members, Thanabalan Subramaniam was arrested on March 29, while sending one of his children to school.

On March 9, 2017, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said there were 1,654 cases of death in custody recorded in Malaysia from 2010 until February 2017. He was responding to a question in parliament.

[1] Free Malaysia Today, Man allegedly nabbed under Sosma dies in police custody, April 18, 2018,

[2] Free Malaysia Today, No signs of abuse, but cops accused of negligence in Thanabalan’s death, April 19. 2-18,

[3] The Sun Daily, 1,654 deaths in custody from 2010 to February, March 13, 2017,