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They shuffled into the courtroom clothed in orange overalls labelled “Cluster B”, cuffed, shackled and chained. Six guards surrounded them as they were led into the dock.
Their crime? Distributing flyers.
Mr. Gandhi Ambalam and Dr. Chee Soon Juan are serving a one-week prison sentence after they were convicted of assembly without permit because they had distributed flyers that were critical of the Government in a group of six persons.
Ms. Chee Siok Chin was similarly treated two weeks ago when she served her jail term for the same conviction. She was transported to court in a high-security prison van that consisted of a small, dark, windowless, claustrophobic compartment the size of a coffin with all four limbs chained together.
But even before they could finish their sentences they were brought back to court to answer yet to more charges for illegal assembly.In court, Dr. Chee stood up to address the judge on three points. He said:
1. New prisoners are not given “yard” time for exercise for up to a week. This means that prisoners are locked in for 24 hours a day.
2. The lights in the cells are not turned on making the cells very dark and dingy.
3. He had brought in a book but was not allowed to take it into the cell until “clearance was given”.
District Judge Chia Wee Kiat said that he would inform the prison authority of the issues.
Even in the dock, the wardens refused to remove the restraints until DJ Chia Wee Kiat ordered the cuffs to be removed. However, their ankles were still shackled and fastened to the bench. Ms. Chee asked the judge to remove the shackles on the feet of Mr. Ambalam and Dr. Chee. “Speaking from personal experience the shackles on the feet cause much pain as they cut into the ankles.”
She went on to cite the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights before DJ Chia. She read out section 33 which states:
Instruments of restraint, such as handcuffs, chains, irons and strait-jackets, shall never be applied as a punishment. Furthermore, chains or irons shall not be used as restraints. Other instruments of restraint shall not be used except in the following circumstances:
( a ) As a precaution against escape during a transfer, provided that they shall be removed when the prisoner appears before a judicial or administrative authority;
Ms. Chee asked DJ Chia to order the shackles on their feet removed as “these men posed absolutely no security threat whatsoever” and that the judge had absolute discretion and jurisdiction in his court. Mr. Jufrie Mahmood, a co-defendant added that the shackles on Mr. Ambalam and Dr. Chee was an overreaction by the authorities as the two men are not common criminals and should not be treated as such. They are victims of blatant violation of human rights by the PAP Government.
After hearing these applications the judge directed Mr. Ambalam and Dr. Chee to be placed in another dock that had bars all around it, and the restraints to be removed.
Mr. Ambalam who is on medication for a heart problem also told the judge that the doctor in Changi Remand Prison was not following the prescription given by his specialist. The prison doctor had insisted that Mr. Ambalam consumes all his different pills at one go whereas the medicines were to be taken at prescribed times. The prison doctor’s insistence that Mr. Ambalam takes all his pills at the same time contradicts that which is prescribed by the specialist shows a total disregard for the safety of his patient.
Is this how a confident government treats political opponents?