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Singapore mother seeks answers to son’s death In custody

Media Release from Civil Society Singapore

Singapore, 14 October 2013 – The mother of a 20 year old prison inmate, who died in custody in circumstances widely thought “controversial”, will go to court here Wednesday. Madam Selvi Narayanasamy has petitioned for a reopening of the Coroner’s Inquiry discontinued after criminal proceedings in July.

Dinesh Raman, who was due for release in December 2010, died of positional asphyxiation three months earlier, following what the Prison Service claimed was an unprovoked attack on a prison officer.

The slight, 51kg 20 year old was subdued with pepper spray and overpowered by eight officers. He was left unresponsive in a prone position in an isolation cell. The Prison Service admitted it did nothing beyond splash water in his face. Shortly before lunch on the same day, he was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Cause of death was recorded as “cardio pulmonary failure, pending investigation”.

Photographs of the deceased released with the family’s permission showed extensive bruising to the face and body.

The Home Ministry conducted an internal Committee of Inquiry and disciplinary proceedings against the eight officers. Neither report was made public.

Subsequent government statements and media reports contained contradictory accounts of the death.

One prison officer was convicted of negligence and fined S$10,000. The Home Ministry claims the other seven have been redeployed to non-operational duties.

Following the criminal proceedings, the State Coroner decided to abandon his inquest. Rachel Zeng, a spokesperson for the Justice For Dinesh Campaign, noted, “The death clearly meets the legal criteria for a mandatory inquiry. The Coroner should not have abandoned the inquest.”

Government officials met with the family on numerous occasions to attempt to convince them to give up their desire for an inquest. A government press release in August claims the mother sought “windfall damages”. Madam Selvi strongly denies this: “I want to know what happened to my son,” she said.

In June, Madam Selvi petitioned the Attorney General to reopen the inquest on the grounds that with a guilty plea entered in the criminal proceedings, the cause and circumstances of Dinesh’s death were never established. She was turned down.

Madam Selvi has now applied to the High Court for a Mandatory Order to compel the Coroner to reopen his inquiry.

A widespread campaign to call on the Singapore government to reopen the inquiry has gathered steam with prominent independent bloggers and news sites expressing concerns about the death.

Maruah, the city state’s human rights watchdog, together with prominent civil activists and writers, have supported the demand for an inquest.


A detailed timeline dossier of the case (with photos) is available here

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