A purported lack of transparency into investigations of alleged misconduct by prison officers against inmates, coupled with the threat of laws such as the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), poses challenges in journalists’ efforts to report such matters for public knowledge, said Kirsten Han.
In an article on her newsletter we, the citizens, Ms Han centres the story of a Changi Prison inmate named Sallehin, who was sentenced to life imprisonment and 15 strokes of the cane in 2017 after being convicted for importing not less than 378.92 grams of methamphetamine into Singapore.
Mr Sallehin documented, in writing, allegations of being assaulted by prison officers and having his dietary needs ignored by the prison.
In December 2017, Ms Han wrote that Mr Sallehin was even brought to the prison clinic and sent to the psychiatric ward — where his hands and legs were cuffed to the bed — after not eating for days.
“I asked the prison staff why am I being treated this way and what they told me was because I have not been eating for four days and this is all doctors instruction we can’t do anything to help you,” he wrote, according to Ms Han.
Mr Sallehin also claimed that the assault by a prison officer in January 2018 left him with several injuries.
He said that when he was asked the prison offers to photograph his injuries, they said it was not necessary.
These accounts continued right up to this year.
In a note this year, Sallehin alleged that the prison had confiscated the journal in which he had recorded the instances of abuse.
Highlighting his mother Normalah’s concerns over the alleged mistreatment faced by her son in the confines of the prison, Ms Han said that the lady had attempted to exercise various ways “various ways to get the matter addressed” for over two years until now.
Mdm Normalah told Ms Han that she has contacted the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), filed police reports, and went to see Members of Parliament.
“She also showed me letters, written by lawyers who were then acting for Sallehin, sent to the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the prison to lodge official complaints in 2018.
“An October 2020 letter from the prison highlighted that she’d written to them 14 times over the past two years,” Ms Han wrote of Mdm Normalah’s account.
“All avenues I tried, but I was disappointed,” Mdm Normalah told Ms Han via an interpreter.
Both the MHA and the Singapore Prison Service, in 2018, have denied all of Sallehin’s allegations, Ms Han wrote.
Noting the lack of transparency in how Singapore’s prisons are run, the journalist says she can neither verify Normalah or Sallehin’s claims, nor verify the statements made by the authorities on this matter, particularly in the age of POFMA.
“While still committed to writing about human rights issues, I’m not keen to walk straight into getting POFMA-ed, or charged for deliberately spreading falsehoods. This uncertainty and concern led me to drag my heels on this story for much longer than I would otherwise have had,” she said.
“Ultimately, I can’t conclude that Normalah, Sallehin, and the former inmates have lied, and I can’t conclude that they didn’t. I also don’t have any further insight into how the prison reviews and investigates complaints, nor can I independently verify the prison’s statements.
“But I also can’t ignore this story, because it raises serious questions that are in the public interest,” said Ms Han.
Read the full article here: A mother’s concerns in a time of POFMA