Saturday, March 10, 2007

Surviving long-term detention without trial

In this fourth instalment of a report published in 1980 by Amnesty International, survivors of long-term political detention in Singapore recalled debilitating prison conditions, hunger strikes, physical torture and the death of one detainee shortly after release.

(IV) Long term detention

Since May 1970 almost all long-term political prisoners in the Republic of Singapore have been detained in the Moon Crescent Detention Centre, a purpose-built political wing of Changi Prison, the main prison in the country. As we noted political detainees are frequently kept in solitary confinement for anything up to six months, either at Whitley Road Holding Centre or at other undisclosed Special Branch Holding Centres. Once a detainee is served with a detention order under Section 8 of the Internal Security Act, he is almost invariably transferred to the Moon Crescent Detention Centre.

The number of detainees currently held at Moon Crescent is at least 50. They are kept in isolated units of three to six men with no contact between the various units. Each small block of cells is surrounded by high walls, and exercise yards are very small. The cells themselves are also small, with very poor ventilation. There is no window. The cell door, which consists of bars only, opens into the corridor which is walled to the ceilings. Hence there is no through ventilation. Detainees are not allowed to have watches, clocks or calendars in their cells.

Prisoners are allowed to receive visitors once a week and to send one letter a week. Each prison visit lasts half-an-hour. Detainee and relative are separated from each other by a thick soundproof glass partition and can communicate with each other only by telephone. Prison warders are present throughout the visit and monitor the conversation. Visits are terminated abruptly if any mention is made of prison conditions. Prisoners are allowed out of their cells only between the hours of 6.30 to 10am, 12 noon to 2pm and 4pm to 7pm. Thus prisoners are confined in their cells for 15 and a half hours a day. Food is poor and only a limited supplement is allowed from families.

Prisoners at Moon Crescent Detention Centre have extremely limited access to lawyers. In part this is a reflection of the harassment of those members of the Singapore Bar who have been courageous enough to defend political prisoners, but it is also due to restrictions in force at Moon Crescent. The lawyer usually has to state specifically the purpose of the his visit, which is always under strict supervision by the Special Branch. Not even a passing mention of conditions of detention is allowed. Frequently requests by prisoners for visits by their lawyer are turned down or ignored by the prison authorities, and letters sent by detainees to their legal advisers often never reach their destination.

From time to time prisoners at Moon Crescent Detention Centre have protested over their conditions. In particular, two long hunger strikes took place in 1971 and 1978. In both cases the prison authorities responded with considerable brutality. In addition, the prisoners have traditionally staged a 36-hour hunger strike on 2 February every year to commemorate the anniversary of 'Operation Coldstore' on 2 February 1963. Two of the detainees arrested on that day - Dr Poh Soo Kai and Ho Piao - are still detained at Moon Crescent.

The hunger strike in 1970-71 arose over an attempt by the authorities to force the prisoners to do work, which the prisoners themselves rejected categorically on the grounds that they were political detainees. The hunger strike started on 16 December 1970. After it had been in progress for five days, the authorities started force-feeding a number of the detainees, including female prisoners. Several of the female detainees at Moon Crescent at the time made sworn complaints of ill-treatment afterwards before a magistrate. Those who made complaints were Law Leh Moi, Sim Teong Hiok, Wong Kui Inn, Toh Siew Tim, Liu Ah Kiang, Lee Yuen Tueng, Goh Peng Hua and Ng Noi Kee.

There have been occasions when prisoners have staged hunger strikes individually against injustices inflicted on them. For example in June 1972 Lim Hock Koon, younger brother of Dr Lim Hock Siew, staged a hunger strike in protest against a 'confession' allegedly made by him which the Government placed in several newspapers without his compliance.

In the last two years conditions at Moon Crescent Detention Centre have deteriorated considerably and the prisoners have staged several protests against the authorities' actions. Amnesty International has long been gravely concerned about the inadequacy of medical conditions at Moon Crescent and this concern has been increased by the death in March 1978 of Chan Hock Hua, a long-term prisoner at Moon Crescent, only 20 days after his release from prison.

Chan Hock Hua was arrested on 17 February 1971. He was initially detained at Whitley Road Holding Centre but was transferred to the top floor of the Central Police Station where he was kept under solitary confinement for two years. During long periods of interrogation at these two interrogation centres, he was frequently beaten and several times immersed in cold water. As a result of this treatment, he also complained in later years of severe rheumatism. In 1973 he was transferred to Moon Crescent.

During the next four years and more at Moon Crescent, Chan Hock Hua suffered frequently from ill-health, so much so that other prisoners complained about the inadequacy of the medical treatment he was receiving and urged the authorities to consider his early release on humaitarian grounds. In early 1978 his health deteriorated rapidly and caused considerable unease amongst his fellow-prisoners. As a result of their protests, on 13 March 1978 Chan Hock Hua was transferred from Moon Crescent to Singapore General Hospital. According to the doctors there, Chan was suffering from carcinoma hepatitis (cancer of the liver), and a few days later he was discharged from hospital because of the incurable nature of his illness. On 25 March, Chan's family took him to a private hospital, but the following day he died from his illness.

The tragic case of Chan Hock Hua illustrates in a striking way the serious shortcomings of medical attention at Moon Crescent. Moreover, Chan's family have repeatedly alleged that he was suffering in fact not from cancer of the liver but from a lacerated liver caused by beatings he had received in the early years of his detention.

The death of Chan Hock Hua caused considerable unrest amongst the detainees at Moon Crescent and led to a hunger strike on 30 March 1978. Some weeks later, in May, the prison authorities announced new regulations that further limited prison rations and restricted what prisoners could receive from their families. The official reason given by the authorities for restricting the supply of food that could be brought by relatives was that the measure was being implemented to prevent jealousies among detainees by equalizing the amount allowed in for each detainee. The prison authorities had also taken to closing up the little openings at the top of the walls of the tiny cells. The reason given for blocking up this minimal source of light and ventilation was that they wanted to prevent rain from getting in through these openings. These measures rendered conditions at Moon Crescent even more oppressive. The prisoners protested at these new measures by staging sit-down protests after each family visit. Two one-day hunger strikes also took place on 6 June and 17 July to emphasize the prisoners' discontent that the authorities were not even willing to discuss the new regulations. As a punishment for these strikes, family visits were curtalied completely and several prisoners moved to the punishment wing of Changi Prison. The punishment wing at Changi Prison is above the prison bakery and ovens, and groups of prisoners from Moon Crescent were kept in solitary confinement cells here for up to five days at a time. Among the detainees transferred there were Lee Tse Tong (detained since October 1963) and Pang Hee Fat. Two prisoners, Chai Chong and Chow Tien Pao, were beaten by three warders, whom they identified as Mak Tse Wah, C P Lim and Tan Kah Beng.

In August 1978 a dozen prisoners from Moon Cresecent were transferred to Whitley Road Holding Centre, where they were placed in solitary confinement and interrogated over long periods. Among those transferred were Chieu Tuan Sin. A number of them were also beaten. Among those assaulted were Chng Min Oh, Ho Koon Kiang, Chong Ming Jee and a female detainee, Cheng Nui. Two of the detainees, Chng Ming Jee and Ho Koon Kiang, began a hunger strike which resulted in their being hospitalized after 20 days and force-fed.

The prisoners transferred to Whitley Road Holding Centre were asked to sign statements, in return for which they were promised conditional release. Both Chng Min Oh and Ho Koon Kiang repeatedly refused to do this. During interrogation they were beaten, and Chng Min Oh had a bowl of urine poured over his head. Both men were kept in solitary confinement and were not allowed to leave their cells to wash or go to the toilet. They were interrogated for long periods in air-conditioned rooms. It was as a result of this treatment that they began their hunger strike.

For over a month during the hunger strike the families of Chng Min Oh and Ho Koon Kiang were denied visits. Chng Min Oh has experienced severe difficulties with hearing as a result of beatings he received at Whitley Road and was later transferred to Changi Prison Hospital. Chng Min Oh and Ho Koon Kiang were transferred back to Moon Cresecent Detention Centre only on 21 November 1978.

The inadequacy of medical conditions at Moon Cresecent in 1978 was further higlighted by the case of Lim Hock Koon. The younger brother of Dr Lim Hock Siew (detained since 1963), Lim Hock Koon has been detained without trial since 1971 under the ISA. In May 1978 he was found to be suffering from chronic high blood pressure. Six months later Lim Hock Koon suffered a stroke resulting in partial paralysis of his body. He has since been transferred to Changi Prison Hospital. Requests by his family that he be moved to an outside hospital for adequate treatment have been ignored. Moreover, Amnesty International has received information that even in hospital Lim Hock Koon has been subjected to renewed interrrogation and pressure to consider making a confession and recantation of his political views.

In late December 1978, another group of detainees at Moon Cresecent were transferred to the Whitley Road Holding Centre. Amnesty International received information that they were held in solitary confinement and were physically assaulted during interrogation. Amongst those transferred to Whitley Road was Ho Piao. For five months, until May 1979, Ho Piao was kept in solitary confinement at Whitley Road and subjected to repeated beatings, dousings with cold water and prolonged interrogation in an air-conditioned room. In a statement to his lawyer on 11 May 1979 at the Moon Cresecent Detention Centre, Ho Piao described his interrogation as follows:

'I was transferred from Moon Cresecent Prison to Whitley Holding Centre on 27 December 1978. The authorities forbade me from bringing along my personal effects and books. This is an abnormal measure. They took me by car from the clinic to an office, from there to an interrogation room, No. C9, and finally to room E4.
For the following few days, they interrogated me continuously and put me under solitary confinment. It was like being locked in a zoo. There was a small metal cap in the door, and the prison warders occasionally kept me under surveillance through the hole covered by the metal cap. This practice wholly contravenes the position of the 'International Law Committee' (translation) on solitary confinement.
On 8 April 1979, I was taken to an underground cubicle, C9, where they switched on the air-conditioner to full blast and directed the cold blast at my body. There were four people - I would recognized them. They handcuffed my hands behind my back, removed my clothes, and poured cold water over my body. I was numb. According to my calculation, they poured water over my body 46 times. The main person was Liu (translation). I was shivering and could not talk.
After eight hours, another batch came to torture me. I would recognize them. One of the four is Quan Tek Kee (translation) who is the main person.
This time they poured water over me for 18 times. After Quan left, another batch tortured me in the same manner. This time they poured cold water on me 132 times. Although I do not know the name of the chief in this batch, I would recognized him. He slapped me and one of them slapped me four times.
This whole day I was tied to a wooden chair. They pulled my hair, pressed my nose and poured water through my nose and mouth. They pressed my throat and hit my lower abdomen three times until I suffered spasmodic pain. They then tightened their grip on my hands, and pressed their fists against my abdomen until I could hardly breathe. My body was in pain, I could neither eat nor drink. They hit my ribs with their knuckles and one of them applied a karate chop to my chest. One of them threw me on the floor. They then poured water over me and hit my head.
They said, "This is how we treat animals. For the last 16 years, you did not get such treatment. This is an introductory gesture."
Their torture made my body feel like a corpse. I could not move. They pulled me up from the floor and tied me to the chair. Another group came to torture me. I would recognize them. They used the same method. They poured water over me 64 times. This torture went on for four days. I lost count of the number of times they poured water over me. My body was drenched and shivering. They shouted in my ears and prized open my eyes. I did not sleep or eat or drink for four days.
Not long after, a person came and introduced himself as director of the Political Bureau. He wanted me to accept the conditions proposed by the authorities on 17 January 1977. Of their three conditions, the main one stipulated that I could not involve myself in nor support the activities of the Communist United Front.
I would not forgo my political beliefs, and would resolutely wait for the change of the government policies towards myself and my friends.
Before long, an officer came and lifted my chin with his shoe. I would recognize him. Another person used a plastic cup to hit my forehead. The pain in my abdomen was beyond description, and it became numb and hard. There was a pain in my chest. One of the officers said, "This man is strange, when we poured water over him, he did not shiver. But when we stopped, he started to shiver.' During the process, he struck me continuously.
Two officers came to interrogate me. I vomited continuously. I felt my abdomen and chest burning. Occasionally I moaned. I felt that I was being carried away. When I awoke, I was on the bed in a prison room, E8. My body was in pain, my limbs were numb. I wanted to shit. I banged on the door and the warder opened it.'

Release of long-term detainees

The release of long-term detainees is governed by Section 10 of the Internal Security Act, which states that a detention order may be suspended at any time by decision of the Minister of Home Affairs. The Minister is also empowered to impose conditions on a released detainee, such as directing that he live as a specified residence, prohibiting overseas travel, requiring the ex-detainee to notify his movements to the police, prohibiting any participation in politics, and imposing a curfew on the ex-detainee.

In addition to the restrictions on released political prisoners authorized by Section 10 of the ISA, it is also common practice for the Singapore authorities to impose two other conditions: 1) that the ex-detainee not speak of conditions during his imprisonment; 2) that he become a member of the Ex-Detainees Association, a government-sponsored front organization consisting of former political prisoners who have made 'confessions' or recanted their political views.

In practice, not all these conditions are imposed on every released political prisoner. However, all former political detainees are denied the full restoration of their civil rights and are forced to live under very stringent conditions. Thus, for example, Shamsuddin Tung, former editor of the newspaper Nanyang Siang Pau, was released from detention on 22 January 1979. Under the conditions of his release, he may not leave Singapore, move his residence, or take part in political or public activities, and he is prohibited from associating with any former political prisoner except members of the Ex-Detainees Association. As we have noted earlier, the last restriction has been used by the Singapore authorities to prevent lawyers who have been imprisoned from defending or representing persons detained under the Internal Security Act.

On 8 November 1978 the Singapore Government 'conditionally released' from Moon Crescent Detention Centre two of its longest term political detainees, Dr Lim Hock Siew and Said Zahari, both of whom had spent nearly 16 years in prison without trial under the ISA. In addition to the restrictions mentioned above, the two men were exiled to two offshore islands, Dr Lim Hock Siew to Pulau Tekong and Said Zahari to Pulau Ubin. On 22 August 1979 Said Zahari was freed from his condition of exile and has been allowed to return to his home in Singapore. Dr Lim Hock Siew remains exiled on the island of Pulau Tekong, and Amnesty International continues to work for his full and unconditional release.

- Amnesty International (1980)



Political detention in Singapore : Prisoner case histories
The ISA as a political tool
Life in Singapore's political prisons
Surviving long-term detention without trial
Detention of journalists and lawyers under the ISA

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