A government employee displays a published report on police practices against detainees, at a government office in Putrajaya.


Kuala Lumpur - Human Rights Watch urged Malaysia on Wednesday to set up an independent body to probe what it said was a “pattern of police abuse” leading to deaths in custody and unjustified shootings of suspects.

The US-based group said in a 102-page report titled “No Answers, No Apologies” that a culture of “impunity” permeates the national police force, which is widely condemned in Malaysia as corrupt, brutal and incompetent.

“It's more than just a few bad apples in the basket. This is about the need for systemic reforms... so that the police cover-up culture gets done away with,” Phil Robertson, the group's deputy Asia director, told reporters.

“The central problem is that the police are investigating themselves,” he said, adding there was a “profound lack of political will... to address these issues”.

Human Rights Watch's report focused on cases over the past five years, based on 75 interviews and research since 2012.

The group said police statistics indicate that officers killed about 400 people in the line of duty between 2000-2012 - around half of them Indonesians.

An estimated two million Indonesians live in Malaysia legally and illegally, mostly filling low-paid jobs on plantations, factories and construction sites shunned by locals.

Police and government spokespersons did not respond to AFP requests for comment.

Another shocking scandal afflicting the police force is a recurring drumbeat of deaths in police custody over the years, with corpses frequently bearing signs of abuse or even torture.

The government has previously admitted that more than 231 people died in police custody from 2000 to May 2013.

Authorities have attributed most of those deaths to illness or sudden events like heart attacks. But even in some of those cases, bodies showed clear signs of abuse.

Amid a burst of violent crime last year, Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who oversees the police force, caused an outcry by urging police to “shoot first” when confronting criminal suspects.

Prosecutions of police officers for brutality or shooting deaths are rare.

One of the cases highlighted in the report was that of Dinesh Darmasena, 26, a Malaysian ethnic Indian who died after being shot in the right arm and back of the head in August 2012, according to a post-mortem.

Police said his car backed into a patrol car and that he and his companions charged toward police.

But Ranjan Darmasena said his younger brother was no criminal.

“For us, it's murder,” he said at the report's launch.

“I and my family want justice for him. Who is going to listen to us?”

The case is being investigated by Malaysian police.

Many Malaysians say crime has surged in recent years, disputing widely derided government statistics that claim it has plummeted.

Anti-crime activists accuse police of incompetence.

The problem of deaths in custody also has highlighted the comparatively sorry state of Malaysia's ethnic Indians, who make up just eight percent of the multiracial country's 28 million people, but are disproportionately represented among those dying in custody.

Malaysia's police force is dominated by ethnic Malays, who account for 60 percent of the country's population and dominate the government. - Sapa-AFP