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The shocking revelation by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng about the escape of ISA detainee Mr Mas Selamat Kastari does not pass the smell test. At the minimum, it raises troubling questions that require urgent answers:
One, were there breaches of physical security? The detainee could not have walked through walls. The Minister has not told the public whether Mr Kastari had dug a burrow, punched hole through the wall or cut the wire fencing surrounding the detention centre. If there were no such breaches, then did Mr Kastari push his way past the security personnel guarding the doorways and gates?
The time Mr Kastari took to go to the toilet is at most several minutes. How does one effect an escape in that short span of time? This apparently occurred at about 4 pm and just before his family visit which means that the officers on duty had to be on heightened alert. The situation becomes even more incredible when we are told that the detainee walks with a “distinct limp”.
Mr Wong Kang Seng expects us to believe that a detainee who could not walk properly got past able-bodied officers from the confines of a toilet, in broad daylight and without an escape route?
Two, where are the footages of security cameras? There are cameras mounted in all prison facilities precisely to prevent such situations. The Whitley Detention Centre is no exception. If the Elections Department has a CCTV camera and can produce video footages, surely Mr Wong can now produce footage of the moments that led to the detainee’s escape.
Cameras would have recorded Mr Kastari’s movements as well as movements of the police officers guarding him. They would also show Mr Kastari walking, running, jumping, or limping through the compounds of the Centre if he had escaped. The Government must show the people such footage.
Three, what are the officers’ accounts? So far we have only heard from the Minister. This is not sufficient. The ISD officers involved in the matter must now give their accounts in a public, independent inquiry whose panel should include the SDP.
In addition, officers handling Mr Kastari must give an account of the detainee’s condition in the months and weeks leading up to his escape. This is important to establish the detainee’s physical condition at the point of his breakout.
If the Government cannot satisfactorily answer the above questions and produce the video footage of Mr Kastari’s movements just prior to his escape, then the question of whether an escape had in fact taken place necessarily arises. The logical follow-up to this question then is: Is Mr Kastari still alive?
The media and Parliament have been derelict in their duties in not raising the above questions and grill Mr Wong on the matter. The kids’ gloves that journalists and MPs have been using to deal with this disturbing issue is revealing as it is instructive.
At the very least, the debacle calls into question the competence of the Home Affairs Minister and his cursory statement given in Parliament is woefully inadequate, negligent even. The SDP demands that the Minister comes out in the open immediately and answers our questions.
All this mystery surrounding this incredible gaffe must, however, not distract us from the fact that Mr Kastari has not been convicted of a crime with the Government having proven its case in a court of law. Singaporeans must remember that he ISA remains a tool of the PAP to serve its own political ends.
If we decry the ISA in detaining Singaporeans like Mr Chia Thye Poh, Ms Teo Soh Lung, and Mr Francis Seow and depriving these citizens of their right to defend themselves in an open and fair trial, then we must also extend that right to Mr Kastari and all other detainees currently incarcerated at the Whitley detention centre. Let the charges be made against these suspects, let the prisoners defend themselves, and let the evidence, if any, convict these persons.
Chee Soon Juan
Singapore Democratic Party