By Andrew Loh
It has been more than 3 years since Dinesh Raman Chinnaiah died in Changi Prison under unclear and controversial circumstances.
The family’s plea for the authorities to reconvene the discontinued Coroner’s inquiry into Dinesh Raman’s death is now before the courts.
Since the penalties meted out to Deputy Superintendent Lim Kwo Yin in July, many questions have been raised by several quarters.
The Government’s handling of the matter, however, leaves very much to be desired. In its last statement, it even accused the family of Dinesh Raman of wanting a “windfall amount” as compensation. In other words, the Government was implying that the family is trying to exploit Dinesh Raman’s death for financial gain.
It is deplorable to even suggest such a thing to a still-grieving family, especially Dinesh Raman’s mother.
There are two key pieces of information which the Government seems to want to avoid providing at all costs, and these raise even more questions and also unfortunately cast doubts on the integrity of the Singapore Prison Service (SPS).
The blame, however, this time round is not on the SPS but on the Government, in particular the Home Affairs Minister, Teo Chee Hean, and the Second Minister for Home Affairs, S Iswaran.
The first key piece of information which some have asked for is the recording of the closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs) in Changi Prison, during the time when Dinesh Raman was being restrained.
At the time of his death, it is believed that Dinesh Raman was only 51kg. The Straits Times reported that it took 8 prison officers “30 minutes” to restrain him in a “fierce struggle”.
What would settle the questions raised over the matter is for the footage from the CCTVs to either be made public or to be shown to the family and the family’s lawyers.
Till date, neither has transpired.
Member of Parliament for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, Janil Puthucheary, raised the question of CCTVs during the Parliamentary sitting of 12 August 2013.
This was what Mr Puthucheary asked:
Dr Janil Puthucheary: Mdm Speaker, I have two supplementary questions for the Minister and they relate to the same issue of doubt. To what extent was there objective corroboration of the extensive eyewitness testimony that was obtained as part of the investigation, for example, by CCTV footage? Secondly, while the cause of death was established as positional asphyxia, was there any other internal injury that could in any way account for the death?
This was the reply from the Second Minister for Home Affairs, S Iswaran – notice that he completely avoided answering specifically Mr Puthucheary’s question about the CCTVs:
Mr S Iswaran: Madam, I thank the Member for his questions. The post-mortem basically established the facts that the injuries were consistent with the application of C&R techniques but did not correlate them in any particular way to the cause of death. As for objective corroboration, clearly the Police did not just rely on the testimony of eyewitnesses which is why there was a review of on the one hand, protocols and techniques and processes and training methods; on the other hand, the references to external experts and all other sources of information before arriving at a definitive view on the facts, and the charges that were recommended.
Perhaps the minister’s remarks that “references” were made with regards to “all other sources of information” refers to CCTVs as well?
Whatever it is, the public is left none the wiser about what the CCTVs have recorded on the morning that Dinesh Raman was being restrained, and why such recordings have not been made public. In fact, the Government refuses to even say if such recordings exist.
Why did the Minister not answer the question about the CCTVs directly and unequivocally?
Were the CCTVs not switched on, or were not in operation, or were undergoing maintenance, on that morning?
Even in the 2008 Mas Selamat escape, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) explained the absence of CCTV recording of the escape with more details than it is doing with the Dinesh Raman case. In 2008, it explained:
“CCTV coverage of the area was in the midst of being upgraded. At the time of the escape, there were two CCTV cameras mounted at the location where Mas climbed out of the Family Visitation Block. However, these cameras were not commissioned yet. The system is still in its testing and validation stage. As such, there was no recording or active monitoring of these cameras.”
The Government’s failure to address this pertinent question of the CCTV recording, and to either make the recording public or available to the family, is hurting the SPS reputation for professionalism, integrity and deserving of public trust.
The second question about the Government’s handling of this case has to do with the “disciplinary action” the Government claimed to have taken against the 8 officers involved.
In the same parliamentary sitting of 12 August, Mr Iswaran said the “MHA has initiated disciplinary action against the superintendent, supervisors and other officers involved in the incident.”
Yet, 2 months after that statement was made, the Government has not disclosed what “disciplinary action” has indeed been taken against the officers involved.
Why is the MHA so reluctant to tell the public how it has punished the officers – and just as importantly, why it is punishing the “superintendent, supervisors and other officers involved in the incident” when the Attorney General’s Chambers have only charged one of the officers?
Why the discrepancy between who the MHA feels has to be punished, and who the AGC feels is responsible for Dinesh Raman’s death?
There seem to be a contradiction in who the AGC and the MHA feel are responsible for the death of Dinesh Raman.
The bumbling manner in which the MHA has handled the matter is causing the public to question and even lose faith in the professionalism and integrity of our prison officers and the SPS.
And it is unfortunate and unfair for the Government to remain silent and let the SPS’ reputation be damaged in such a way.
The Government should not leave it to the courts to decide whether or if a Coroner’s inquiry should be convened. Given that critical questions – such as those about the CCTVs – are left unanswered, the Government should order the inquiry to be resumed and allow the family of Dinesh Raman to meet face to face with those who have caused Dinesh Raman’s death, and raise question about their roles in the incident.
The Government, above all things, owes the family and mother of Dinesh Raman closure – instead of trying to smear the family with baseless and vile accusations.
It does nothing for the reputation of the SPS and its officers who deserve better. So too does Dinesh Raman’s family.