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Malaysia constable jailed over custody death

KUALA LUMPUR -- A Malaysian court on Monday sentenced a constable to three years in jail over the death in custody of an ethnic Indian man in a closely watched case underscoring complaints of police brutality.

A. Kugan, 22, died in custody in 2009 at a police station where he had been detained on suspicion of stealing luxury cars, sparking uproar among minority ethnic Indians and activists who allege frequent police corruption and abuse.

Constable V. Navindran, who is also an ethnic Indian, was sentenced by a district court outside the capital Kuala Lumpur to three years in jail for causing hurt to Kugan to extort a confession, said his lawyer P.M. Nagarajan.

Another district court had earlier acquitted Navindran, who is in his 30s, of causing grievous hurt. But a high court overturned that verdict and sent the case back to the lower court for Navindran to answer the lesser charge of causing hurt.

Nagarajan said his client was innocent and had been made a “scapegoat.” A pathologist testified earlier that more than one person must have been involved in the alleged beating of Kugan, who later died, he said. There were also a number of burns on his body.

Nagarajan said he would appeal against the verdict, with the judge ordering the penalty to be deferred until then.

Allegations of police brutality are frequent, but prosecutions are few.

In 2010, a U.N. team, investigating detention in Malaysia, found “virtually all” detainees interviewed said they were subjected to torture to obtain confessions while in police custody.

According to the home ministry, a total of 147 detainees died in custody from 2000 to 2009, while 279 suspects were shot dead by police.

Kugan's death sparked uproar among the ethnic Indian community with more than 1,000 people attending his funeral in the Muslim Malay majority country.

Ethnic Indians, who make up about 8 percent of the country's 28 million people, complain they face discrimination and are marginalized in terms of education and opportunities.

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