In order to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country, Changi Prison has implemented segregation measures to prevent new inmates from interacting with old ones by confining them to their cells for 14 days, as a means of preventing an outbreak.
Likening this move of confining inmates in a closed space with no natural light and almost nothing to do as “psychological torture”, activist Jolovan Wham slammed the move as “inhuman”.
Taking to his Facebook page earlier today (7 April) to raise his concerns, Mr Wham noted that usually inmates are allowed one hour of yard time in an indoor area where they can exercise, watch TV, read old newspapers, and socialise. Unfortunately, fears of the virus have resulted in a suspension of this privilege.
Mr Wham, who himself has just spent seven days in prison following a conviction of contempt of court, pointed out that “the denial of yard time would’ve been easier to endure if it wasn’t for the fact that prison cells at Changi are dismal”.
Mr Wham started serving his term on 31 March after refusing to pay a fine for questioning the country’s judiciary in a Facebook post. Mr Wham said in a Twitter post, “I’m doing this in lieu of a 5k fine because I do not recognise the legitimacy of the (judgement) and the law, both of which are unjust.”
Going back to his post on Facebook, Mr Wham described the space he was confined in while he was in prison.
“The space that we were in was so small that it could fit 4 of us exactly without much room left to move around. Air circulation was poor because there were no fans, save for a vent above the cell door. The only window was covered with a huge wire net which sealed off almost all of the natural light.”
He went on to say, “All activities including toilet, shower, and meals were done in the cell. Food is given to you through a small opening at the bottom of the door.”
Inmates are also only given a “thin straw mat” to sleep on the hard floor, and personal books were prohibited as only prison books were allowed, which was a limited selection.
Mr Wham said, “I ended up suffering through badly written crime novels.”
On top of that, the activist pointed out that inmates are also not allowed to make phone calls, which he says was “even worse for the poor Vietnamese guy” who share a cell with him for two days as he did not speak English or any of the local languages.
Noting that he understands the pressure of preventing an outbreak in the prison where people live in close proximity to each other, the “psychological torture of living in a closed space for the inmates, with no natural light and almost nothing to do, is inhuman”.
Mr Wham asked, “Isn’t there a way to rotate and schedule yard time for different inmates even if not everyday but on alternate days?”
However, he added that these suggestions were made but they were told that nothing could be done.
Mr Wham concluded his post by saying, “My sentence was for 7 days, so I wasn’t subjected to the full 14 day confinement. Unfortunately, my fellow inmates have to endure the torture of being cooped up like pigs in a pen for another week.”