28 January, 2009

Kugan laid to rest, questions linger.

Suspected car thief A. Kugan was laid to rest at 5:20pm Wednesday at the Batu 14 cemetery here, more than a week after his death while in police custody had created a controversy.

He was buried in the presence of family members and hundreds of supporters and well-wishers.

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".

It was a day in which emotions were on edge. The drama started in the vicinity of the Universiti Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) in Petaling Jaya when the Field Reserve Unit (FRU) and the Light Strike Force were deployed, creating a massive jam at about 9:30am.

The units were placed there in anticipation of a large crowd for the procession that would begin at the UMMC mortuary where Kugan’s body was being kept, Petaling Jaya police chief Asst Comm Arjunaidi Mohamed said.

By 11am, that expected large crowd had materialised, even before Kugan’s family arrived at about noon.

Five men were arrested, the first two at about 12:15pm for trying to get through a barricade at the mortuary despite orders to disperse.

These arrests came after Brickfields OCPD Asst Comm Wan Abdul Bari Wan Abdul Khalid had made an announcement asking the crowd disperse.

“They have been taken to the Brickfields police headquarters for questioning,” ACP Wan Abdul Bari said.

Kugan, an 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.

Kugan's uncle, Ravi Roy, 42, had earlier told the media said that the family was not blaming the police force for Kugan’s death, but was merely seeking the truth.

“We are not blaming the entire police force, all we want is for the people who are responsible to be brought to justice,” he said at the Bandar Kinrara home here of Kugan’s parents on Monday.

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