Sunday, October 25, 2009

Malaysian Aide's July Death 'Probably Homicide'- Asia Sentinel

Dr Pornthip Rojanasunand

A Thai pathologist testifies that opposition aide Teoh Beng Hock was probably thrown to his death Appearing before a coroner's court in Kuala Lumpur Wednesday, a respected Thai pathologist testified that an aide to an opposition leader whose body was found on July 16 under mysterious circumstances atop a building next to the headquarters of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission probably was murdered.

Dr Pornthip Rojanasunand said the odds were about 80 per cent that the death of Teoh Beng Hock was not a suicide although two government pathologists testified earlier that Teoh apparently had killed himself. Marks on Teoh's body, she testified, indicated he was probably beaten and sodomized with an unknown instrument before his death. Nobody has figured out why the 29-year-old aide, a former journalist, would have killed himself, since he was expected to marry his fiancé, who was two months pregnant, on the following Saturday.

Teoh's death is not the only one that Malaysian authorities have been studiously ignoring or put on the back burner. Earlier this year, the Indian community was inflamed by the case of a 20-year-old male named Kugan Ananthan who died in police custody five days after he was picked up for questioning in connection with a car theft case. A post-mortem indicated he had endured several severe beatings prior to his death. Other cases of extreme police brutality, visited upon Malays, Chinese and Indians alike, have been brought to public notice by families, only to have them ignored by authorities.

Dr Pornthip, 54, acknowledged that she had not examined either the site where Teoh's body was found or the body herself, but rather depended on auopsy pictures taken by Malaysian officials. She was hired by the Selangor state government, which is held by the Pakatan Rakyat opposition. That had some critics in Kuala Lumpur charging that she could be biased as a witness.Nonetheless Pornthip, the director-general of Thailand's Central Institute of Forensic Science, is the highly respected author of textbooks on autopsies.

She has carried out more than 10,000 autopsies including one on the actor David Carradine, who was found dead in a Bangkok hotel room closet earlier this year after apparently strangling himself in an act of autoeroticism. She was also involved in identifying victims of the disastrous Boxing Day tsunami in 2004. She said she has conducted more than 100 autopsies on individuals who had fallen from high places. Although she has been called a publicity seeker by Thai police, who have clashed with her on many occasions, her work has been praised by outsiders. She was the first to go public with accusations that 80 men had died of suffocation in the southern Thai city of Thakbai five years ago after they had been trussed up and piled on top of each other in army trucks.

Teoh, she testified, was apparently alive but unconscious when he hit the roof, judging from the lack of reaction wounds on his arms and legs that would have shown he instinctively tried to soften his fall at the last second, as victims are likely to do. According to local media, she said the aide's injuries indicated he could have been strangled.Teoh was being questioned over the use of RM2,400 (US$710) in public funds by his boss, Selangor State Executive Council Member Ean Yong Hian Wah, to buy flags for a Merdeka (freedom) Day celebration. Teoh drove himself to the inquiry, police said, adding that he had volunteered to appear for questioning. He had been questioned continually for several hours over the night and, investigators said, had asked for time to rest before driving himself home. No one apparently saw him after that.

The death has caused outrage across Malaysia, particularly in the Chinese community, which largely believes Teoh died in an interrogation gone wrong. According media reports, Pornthip testified that the tear in Teoh's anus, which measured 6 cm wide and 2cm long, appeared to have been caused by an object inserted forcefully into him. She noted that pathologists Khairul Aznam Ibrahim from the Hospital Tengku Rahimah Ampuan in Klang and Prashant Naresh Samberkar from the Universiti Malaya Medical Centre in Kuala Lumpur had previously called attention to the laceration, although they testified Teoh had probably committed suicide.Pornthip also testified that several stripes on Teoh's upper thighs just below the buttocks were inconsistent with injuries caused by a fall. The lines, she suggested, could have been the result of a beating with a stick. She also pointed out several bruises on Teoh's neck, which could have meant he had been strangled.

Teoh's skull fracture, she was quoted as saying, was not typical of an injury from a fall, but more compatible with the result of blunt force applied directly to the skull."I found contusions on a fracture line, so the fracture could be caused by blunt force injury directly on the skull," she was quoted as saying. Khairul and Prashant previously testified that Teoh might have sustained the head injuries in the fall from the 12th floor of the MACC Selangor headquarters. But, she said, acccording to local media, "For transfer of force, (you) only find ring fractures at the base of the skull along (the) spinal column, not a linear fracture and not a cervical spine fracture." She also contradicted the idea that one of Teoh's shoes might have come off from the impact, Instead, she said after inspecting the shoes, he might have been dragged to the window where he was thrown over.

Pornthip's testimony dovetails with accusations made in an anonymous letter written in Malay language on MACC stationery sent to the Teoh family's lawyer in August, charging that Hishamuddin Hashim, a top commission official, had conspired with Mohammad Khir Toyo, a leading united Malays National Organisation politician, to conduct corruption probes into opposition politicians, and that Teoh had been brought in for questioning as a part of that effort. The letter stopped short of accusing either Hishamuddin or other offices of being involved in the death. Since that time, opposition politicians have complained that the files of seven Chinese lawmakers were confiscated by MACC investigators on allegations of misuse of their annual office allocations and so far while the MACC have left Barisan Nasional lawmakers alone.

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