By Rama Ramanathan

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--28 months, 23 witnesses, 20-line ‘transcript decision,’ in Malay.

In Penang for the Anna Jenkins inquest, I woke up thinking about the inquest into the death in custody of Thomas Orhions Ewasinha. This line flashed through my mind: “28 months, 23 witnesses, 20-line ‘transcript decision,’ in Malay.”

Mr Orhions is the Nigerian Ph.D. student with a valid visa and student pass whom Malaysia’s immigration authorities arrested and detained on 4 July 2019. He died 5 days later in Bukit Jalil Immigration Depot, in a “sick inmates cell,” on 9 July 2019.

Malaysian law does not mandate inquests for deaths in immigration custody. But the Attorney General (AG) has the power to order an inquest. Many NGOs clamoured for an inquest. Mrs Ewasinha requested an inquest. The AG ordered the Kuala Lumpur coroner to conduct it.

The first hearing was on 25 November 2019. 23 witnesses were called. The last hearing was on 18 February 2021. The hearings spanned 15 months.

The coroner delivered her decision orally on 12 November 2021, 28 months after Mr Orhions died. She signed the transcript of the words spoken in her court on the day she delivered her decision, in Malay.

Yes, “28 months, 23 witnesses later, a 20-line ‘transcript decision’ in Malay”

A section of the transcript is titled “Decision is read.” It spans twenty lines. It does not include the date of death and place of death. It does not state the number of witnesses. This is my translation of the twenty lines.

As background, this is a case of inquest. Our goal is not to decide who is wrong and who speaks the truth. We are merely to satisfy the guidelines._ [Cuma ada requirement di mana yang perlu di garis panduan.] _In summary, the court has formed an opinion after reading the evidence of all the witnesses. Based on the entirety of the evidence, it is clear that the deceased died due to a heart attack.

According to Witness 11, if the deceased had been given medical treatment rapidly, his death could have been avoided. However, it cannot be denied that the authorities in the immigration depot laboured to save the deceased by rapidly contacting the hospital and performing CPR, as confirmed by all hospital staff and paramedics. 

Their efforts were witnessed by witness 19, a cellmate of the deceased, and by witness 20, who was in the cell opposite. On the whole, steps were taken, though luck was not on the side of the deceased. 
On the basis of these facts, I conclude that the officers of URKP [the coroner doesn’t explain what this means – it is the medical unit in the depot]  did not ignore the deceased and indeed laboured to give emergency treatment to the deceased even though they had neither training nor expertise to do so. 
Therefore, I conclude that there is no clear and conclusive evidence that negligence or crime contributed to the death of the deceased. That’s all.

There was evidence that Mr Orhions should never have been detained, or at the very least, should have been released the day after he was apprehended.

There was evidence that the medical unit in the depot gave Mr Orhions a drug to reduce his blood pressure – without measuring his blood pressure, and without monitoring the effects of the drug on him.

There was evidence that detainees were held for years in a facility which was designed to hold persons for periods of about one week.

The coroner’s decision said nothing about Mr Orhions, the person. It directed no remarks to the family. It said nothing to urge reforms.

Why? The coroner said at the outset: We are merely to satisfy the guidelines.

Such is the state of our coronial system.

The coroner's “report” in the case of Mr Orhions has given me an inkling about what the Anna Jenkins report could be like. I hope I’m wrong. I hope it will be even better than the 111-page Nora Anne Quoirin decision which the coroner wrote in English.

The Anna Jenkins inquest is on-going.