5 Safeguards under the ISA

~By: Teo Soh Lung ~


My last response to Minister Teo Chee Hean’s speech in parliament that was reported in The Straits Times of 20 October 2011 was made on 9 November 2011. The sub-title to that reply was Making use of the Church and it drew a number of pretty angry comments.  In between then and now, I was somehow distracted by other issues.  The news-cuttings of Minister Teo’s memorable speech however, has not been misplaced all these months. It has suffered some severe damage under the claws of my cat, Angel though. She was probably more angry at the speech than me!
As the 25 anniversary of the 1987 arrest of “Marxist conspirators” approaches, I want to demolish once and for all Minister Teo’s specious assurance that there are sufficient safeguards under the ISA.  These safeguards are summarised in The Straits Times at page A33 and I shall deal with them in the order set out by its writer or editors.
Only 30 days
The first safeguard is that a person can only be held for 30 days after which the minister or rather the cabinet have to decide  if he or she should be issued the Order of Detention for a maximum of two years, renewable at the end of the period or released unconditionally or be subjected to a  Restriction Order i.e. subject to conditions, such as restriction of movement or association.
I want to emphasise that 30 days in a prison cell or in a freezing cold room is not 30 days spent in one’s own house. Try putting the minister in a freezing cold room with two spotlights shining into his eyes. He is a military man and he should be able to  take the cold better than me. Let him wear the prison garb of cotton top and trousers without his underwear. Make him stand 50 hours out of 72 hours in that room and subject him to continuous interrogation. Let ISD officers shout at him and tell him that everything he said are lies and that he is just good at telling fairy tales. Deprive him of sleep for just three days and nights.
If the minister survives these 72 hours (ISD officers don’t even need to lay hands on him) without making and signing a false statement, then he has my greatest admiration and respect.  
From my experience and the experience of my friends, no one can survive three days and nights of continuous interrogation in a cold room in the basement of Whitley Detention Centre. From his account in To catch a Tartar, Mr Francis Seow, the former Solicitor-General could not too.  I can say with confidence that even the director of ISD will not be able to withstand 72 hours of continuous interrogation in that cold room. Anyone in Singapore who can survive such treatment without writing a false statement, must either be a hardcore criminal or an imbecile who cannot write a statement no matter how he is threatened.
The cold room treatment is not the only experience all ISA detainees go through. For nearly a week, none of us was allowed contact with the outside world.  On the sixth day, two family members were allowed to visit us. Imagine the panic caused to our families when they discover their children, spouses, brothers and sisters missing for 6 long days in a first world country. In this regard, ISA prisoners are accorded treatment worse than ordinary criminals for the latter are at least allowed to be produced in court within 48 hours and family members are informed of their whereabouts by the police.
30 days for ISD officers to investigate a conspiracy or fabricate a conspiracy is a long time. I thought we have the brightest scholars working in the ISD? Why do they need 30 days to decide whether to detain a prisoner or release him?  Surely by the end of three days, they would have completed their investigation and either slam the order of detention on them or release them.  Why do they need to fully utilise the 30 days allowed by the law?  Is it to unnecessarily punish the innocent prisoner or is it because they are so inefficient or so daft that they cannot complete their investigation? 
But if they are not able to complete their investigation, how is it that they could produce a script for detainees to appear on state television three weeks after our arrest?  Shouldn’t they be putting all their attention on investigating our “crimes” rather than turn us into television stars?  Worse, we or at least I was told that if I didn’t appear on television, they would “throw away the key,” meaning I would languish in jail for a very long time.
I shall pause here and continue at a later date because I feel sick remembering what 30 days mean to an ISA detainee.  The ISA in allowing a person to be detained for 30 days is not providing him with any safeguard.  Rather, the law in allowing 30 days for investigation is granting ISD officers and the government more than adequate time to fabricate a story for public consumption, to instil fear in them and to unnecessarily punish and intimidate a detainee.