Chee Soon Juan
18 Dec 06
In response to the Ministry of Home Affair’s (MHA) statement (ST, 2 Dec 2006), allow me to state what really took place during my recent imprisonment at the Queenstown Remand Prison from 23 Nov-16 Dec 2006.
When I consumed my meals on the first two days of my jail term, I experienced acute nausea, dizziness and extreme distortion of my auditory senses. Sounds like the jangling of keys or my cell-mates urinating in the latrine became unbearably loud.
When I subsequently skipped a couple of meals, these symptoms did not occur. When I resumed eating, the negative effects re-appeared. This made me rather suspicious and nervous.
Food tray marked
My suspicion was heightened when I noticed that my food tray was marked with the letter ‘S’. Those of my two other cell-mates were not so marked. I then compared the contents of my rations with theirs and found that the servings were similar.
I subsequently found out from my wife that when she asked a Mr Chandra Kumar, who would only identify himself as a “prison officer” from the MHA, he categorically denied that prisoners’ food trays were marked.
I then decided to stop eating whereupon the symptoms I described earlier went away. I told the prison authorities, including the doctor, about the matter and said that I wanted to see my wife.
After a few days without my eating, the doctor said that he wanted to run some tests to check on my health. I consented to giving him urine samples but indicated that I did not want any invasive procedures to be conducted, including extracting blood samples.
Given what I had just experienced, I did not want the prison authorities inserting anything into me such as pricking my finger for blood-sugar tests, taking blood samples, or putting me on intravenous drips.
I repeated that I wanted to see my wife first (to seek independent opinion) before I gave consent to such invasive procedures, however minor they were. Given the circumstances, I had to be extra cautious.
I, however, continued to give urine specimens and allowed my blood pressure to be monitored.
The prison authorities remained intransigent for an entire week until Sunday, 3 Dec when the doctor decided to admit me to Changi General Hospital (CGH) because my blood pressure had begun to fall and traces of blood continued to be present in my urine.
The following morning on 4 Dec, I again indicated to the doctors at CGH that given the situation, I wanted to see my wife first before I agreed to any invasive procedure to be done. But I did not object to X-rays and CT-scans being conducted on me.
When the authorities finally allowed my wife and sister, Chee Siok Chin, to visit me at CGH that morning, I felt more at ease and subsequently consumed the hospital food and allowed my blood to be drawn for tests.
I was informed that all the tests and consultations showed that there was nothing inherently wrong with me that caused me to refuse to eat the prison food or to experience the symptoms when I ate it. Which brings me back to the question: What caused my symptoms when I first ate the prison food?
Sleep deprivation tactics?
When I was subsequently discharged and transferred back to prison on Thursday, 7 Dec, it was already dinner time. When the food trays were brought in, I was told to choose one out of the three (the marking was no longer there).
I did not want to eat the dinner partly because I had an aversion to the food and partly because I had had a late meal at the hospital just before I was brought back to prison.
The prison official in charge gave me five minutes to start eating failing which my family visit, yard time, and consultations with my lawyer would be canceled. When I did not comply, I was taken back to my cell.
The books that I had taken with me to the hospital and brought back were then taken from me. When I asked for them, I was told that they were undergoing “censoring”. I told the officials that they were the same books I had with me since the first day of my imprisonment and asked why they were being censored only now. I received no explanation. The books were only gradually returned to me the following day.
That night the light in my cell was left on the entire night and morning which made sleep impossible. This went on for the remaining nine days of my imprisonment. I told the prison doctor and psychiatrist that the refusal to turn off the lights at night was affecting my ability to rest and sleep and this, in turn, affected my health adding to my inability to eat during the day. Obviously, this fell on deaf ears.
I nevertheless tried to eat as much as possible, usually managing a few mouthfuls, just so that I would not be accused of deliberately refusing to eat. Because of the sleep deprivation, I was not able to gain back the weight I had lost (about 5 kg) when I refused to eat the food during the first week of my incarceration.
Lastly, my lawyer, my family members and I have repeatedly asked for a complete set of my medical test results to be given to us. To date, after more than a week, we still have not received it.
Given what I have just revealed, it is imperative that the Government answer the following questions:
1. Why was my food tray marked ‘S’ when others’ were not?
2. Why were my books taken away from me when I returned to the prison from the hospital?
3. Why was the light in my cell left on throughout the night thus depriving me of sleep?