Andrew Loh

A month has passed since suspected JI leader Mas Selamat Kastari escaped from the Whitley Road detention centre.

Perhaps it is a good time to re-visit what has been revealed – especially the information which the government has chosen to give the public about the escapee since the jailbreak.

When one looks at the information disseminated so far, by the government through the local media, one cannot help but notice the woeful lack of important information and, at the same time, the confusion surrounding one aspect of it.

The Ministry of Home Affairs released a statement to the press on the day of the escape itself – February 27th. However, the press release was a very short one. To quote the full statement from the MHA’s website:

“Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) detainee Mas Selamat bin Kastari escaped from the Whitley Road Detention Centre at 4:05 pm on 27 Feb 2008.

The public is advised to immediately contact the Police at 999 if they know of his whereabouts.

Mas Selamat was the leader of the Singapore JI network. He walks with a limp and is presently at large. He is not known to be armed. Extensive police resources have been deployed to track him down.”

The only information which would be of any help in physically identifying him was that “he walks with a limp”.

Significantly, there was no mention of his physical built, such as his height, weight, hair, whether he wore spectacles, or had tattoos, etc.

This press release was first carried by Channel NewsAsia at 20:45 hrs (8.45pm) on the day of the escape – some four and a half hours after the escape took place at 16.05 hrs (4.05pm), according to the police.

The next day, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs, Wong Kan Seng, commented about the escape in a Parliamentary sitting. In his comments, no mention was made of Kastari’s physical attributes. Instead, Mr Wong related briefly what had transpired at the detention centre which led to Kastari giving his custodians the slip.

Four days later, even that tiny bit of information about his limp had to be ‘clarified’ by the police – his limp is not observable if he only walks. According to this Straits Times report on March 2, Kastari has an “observable limp on left leg when running or walking briskly”. And in a Straits Times Interactive vodcast, it was reported that:

“Mas Selamat’s limp can only be seen clearly when he walks quickly or runs but can hardly be observed when he walks.”

One can only wonder why the police first put out an incomplete piece of information at a most critical time – just hours after the escape itself – and then took four days to clarify that Kastari’s limp is only observable if he walks quickly or runs.

One month later, we still do not have the answer to this simple question.

Although the Home Affairs minister has appointed a Committee of Inquiry (COI) to ascertain the circumstances relating to the jailbreak, surely we do not have to wait for the COI to complete its investigation to have an answer to this question.

Besides, I am sure the COI’s scope of investigation does not include press releases by the police.

And in the spirit of what the Home Affairs minister himself said – that a “full account” will be given to the public about Kastari’s escape – perhaps the police should be the first in observing the spirit of Mr Wong’s assurance:

Can the police please clarify why they obviously fouled up with a simple piece of information released at the most critical time following the escape?

Surely, one month is more than enough time to provide a clear explanation.

Or an apology.


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