For 20 days Thanabalan drank toilet water in the Shah Alam lockup. (Part 1)

For 20 days Thanabalan drank toilet water in the Shah Alam lockup. (Part 1)

On Tuesday, Bira coolly told the Coroner that because he is been in and out of lockups, he knows what really goes on in lockups. At 43 years, he has past the expiry age for persons engaged in “the security business.”

Bira made many shocking disclosures about the Shah Alam lockup and about the events which led to the death of S Thanabalan. Thana, 38-year old husband and father of two.

The latter died while being held in custody by the police in the Shah Alam lockup.

Bira is a cousin of Thana’s wife. This fact may not have been known to the DPP (Deputy Public Prosecutor) who had called him as a witness. I’m not sure what the DPP hoped to establish through Bira, but I am certain she was dismayed by what he told the Coroner.

I am certain because, when Bira was questioned by M Visvanathan (Visva) who’s acting for Thana’s family, the DPP rested her head on her hand.

Bira’s testimony has called into question much of the prior police testimony. It has also put pressure on her to produce CCTV recordings from the lockup – which she has twice failed to produce.

The DPP’s hands expressed dismay. So did the hands of Thana’s wife. As she listened, she often pressed her right hand against her mouth, as if to stifle gasps. With her left hand, she brushed away tears from her cheeks. Her cousin-sister was with her. She used her hands similarly.

Bira was the third witness for the day. The first two were cops in crisp blue uniforms with shiny buttons and badges. One was a Lance Corporal who works at the lockup. The other was an Inspector who questions detainees daily at the lockup.

Bira came across as honest. Perhaps he spoke the truth because he knows his life is past expiry date and he wants to gain merit before he expires. Perhaps he’s been so abused in the lockup, he thinks they can’t cause him more pain when he goes back in.

 Perhaps he wanted to show his “good side” to his cousins in the gallery.

Bira said Thana was a quiet, mild person who, unlike himself, “was not involved” and should never have been detained.

Unlike the evidence presented by the cops, Bira’s evidence seemed spontaneous, not rehearsed. Visva said he had not met Bira before seeing him in court.

Conversely, the DPP often went into the witness holding room and spoke with the witnesses – without Visva. She also had statements from each of her witnesses (“112 statements”) including the police. Once, in court, she read from one of the statements.

I was surprised when the DPP told the Coroner, in open court, what she had gleaned from a conversation in the witness room. I was doubly surprised when the Coroner did not rebuke the DPP. Am I wrong to think the witness room is out of bounds for the family’s counsel and the DPP?

I am left thinking that there was no rebuke because, as I said in an earlier post, the Coroner and the DPP often met without the family’s counsel. Somehow this seems biased and inappropriate.

Next, I’ll tell you what Bira told the court.

Bira’s evidence – Part one

Bira and ten others, including Thana, were in cell 19, the cell furthest away from the sentry desk. Yes, eleven detainees in one cell.

The cell is designed with four outlets where water can emerge: two squat toilets, one shower and one spigot – all operated by push-buttons.

One toilet is unusable and has no water. In the other toilet, water flows continuously. The cellmates clean it often, because that’s the water they “catch” and drink. There is no water in the shower and the spigot. The detainees have no toiletries.

The detainees use the water which flows in the toilet as drinking water, because the water provided with meals simply isn’t enough for each day.

Visva told me that, when he, the coroner, the DPP and court staff visited the cell, the forced ventilation system in the lockup was out of order. He said there’s no natural ventilation, and he felt like he was suffocating. He said he heard water flowing continuously. (Yes, 18 months after Thana died.)

The sentries do not do any patrols. (Contrary to the claim by the sentries that they patrol every 30 minutes, partly to detect and prevent attempted suicides. In any case, the official diary has no record of patrols.)

The detainees see the sentries only when detainees are moved. At these times, detainees will tell the sentries they are sick, need medicine, have no water and so on. But they almost never get a response.

The detainees do not eat the fish which they are served daily for lunch together with rice because the fish smells rotten.

Thana was the only detainee who was not beaten during daily questioning – Bira is sure of this because it was a talking point between him and Thana, whom Bira says was a quiet, non-complaining person. (Sugenthiran (Sugen), the Inspector who questioned Thana daily, testified on Tuesday that Thana was “cooperative, alert and healthy.”)

At Bira’s insistence, four days before he died, Thana told Sugen that he was unwell and needed medical attention. This contradicts Sugen’s claim that Thana never told him he was sick or needed medical attention.

One or more days before he died, again at Bira’s insistence, Thana stood up with Bira and asked a sentry for medicine.

Hours before Thana died, he was running a high temperature. Bira placed a cold towel on Thana’s forehead to cool him down, while hoping for medical help.

When only two escorts – see my upcoming article – arrived to take three ill detainees to hospital, Bira and the others were surprised that Thana was left behind while Edward was taken together with Logeswaran (Loga).

In Bira’s assessment, Loga was extremely ill and needed medical attention as urgently as Thana, while Edward was less ill. This contradicts the cops’ version of the story – see my next article.

Later, Bira asked Edward why he had not given priority to Thana who was clearly more ill. Edward replied that his parents had paid money to make my hospital visit happen and were waiting at the hospital in Klang.

Bira added that Edward was a cop who had been detained under Sosma.

If true, it is very odd that two seriously ill detainees were taken, in the dark, NOT to the nearest hospital, in Shah Alam, but to a far-away hospital, in Klang. The Coroner did not direct the DPP to address this on future hearing days.

On Wednesday ASP Hashim, the Sosma Investigating Officer, testified that Loga and Edward had been taken, by the escorts he had sent, to the Shah Alam hospital, NOT the Klang hospital, as claimed by Bira.

Noting the conflicting testimonies, Visva asked the ASP, the DPP and the Coroner to produce a copy of a registration record or similar document to show which hospital had treated Loges and Edward.

To my surprise, the ASP did not agree, neither did the DPP. The Coroner was silent. I view this as a lack of care by the DPP and the Coroner to establish the truth.

I will say more about that in my next article which will also include the police version of events, other disclosures made by Bira, and a summary of my thoughts about what I’ve heard and seen to-date.

Rama Ramanathan is an activist for Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of The Leaders Online.

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custodial deathpolice brutalityS ThanabalanSosma