Press Statement

Singapore must stop the torturous & inhumane treatment of Malaysian death row prisoners in Changi prison

31 October 2019


We have received very disturbing information from several families of Malaysian death row prisoners in Changi prison on the severe treatment now being inflicted on them by Singapore authorities. The conditions they are kept in have so seriously deteriorated over the past few months, amounting to systematic torture. Most of these prisoners are alleged drug mules sentenced to death under Singapore’s harsh drug laws.

Since September 2019, the prisoners have been forcibly removed from their usual cells and locked up in tiny square-shaped cells which measure only three normal paces on each side. This works out to a length of only about 4 feet on each side of the cell. The toilet and shower are also within the cell, thus reducing further the living space.

It is like being locked up in a box.

Prisoners are forced to sleep in a bent position as they are unable to stretch out when sleeping. This is reminiscent of tortures inflicted during the Japanese Occupation. Within this tiny cell, the Malaysians are confined for 23 hours each day.

To make things worse, these cells have almost no ventilation as the doors are not made of bars but of solid iron with only two small slots for food and observation. Even these slots are kept locked from the outside. The prisoners suffer terribly all day long in the hot, stifling and humid conditions inside the cell.

The lighting within these cells is deliberately made very dim and dark. Reading and writing is not possible in these conditions.

The death row prisoners are now also not allowed to converse with fellow prisoners, although this was allowed previously.

Hence, they are forced to sit in their stiflingly hot prison cells all day, unable to talk, read, write or even stretch out and sleep. It amounts to the worst kind of solitary punishment.

We have received multiple accounts confirming these conditions.

These conditions are extreme, inhumane and in breach of international human rights norms. The International Red Cross recommends cell size of a minimum of 5.4 square meters. The Changi death row prisoner cells is not even one third of the Red Cross’ minimum size.

These prisoners are already under the heavy mental burden of the death sentence, and now these brutal conditions make their lives a living hell. In its brutality of treatment, this puts Changi prison in the same league as notorious prisons in North Korea, Iran and the Congo.

The treatment meted out to the death row prisoners seems to be deliberate and intended to inflict maximum suffering. Singapore’s motive for doing is unclear at present.

However, as far as the Malaysian prisoners are concerned, it is consistent with a pattern of persecution and malevolent conduct on the part of Singapore authorities against Malaysian prisoners. In May 2019 Singapore Home Minister K Shanmugam explicitly targeted Malaysians in his statement on drug trafficking. As Changi prison is under the purview of Mr Shanmugam, it raises the question as to whether the current treatment is upon his directions.

We urge the Singapore government to end these brutal conditions, and to immediately place the affected death row prisoners in cells that are in accordance with international standards. Singapore must also allow the UN or other internationally accredited delegation to visit and inspect Changi prison.

Meanwhile, we urge the Malaysian government to protest the harsh and inhumane treatment of our Malaysian citizens on death row in Singapore and render all necessary assistance to the detainees and their families. It is also imperative that the Malaysian government urgently sends a delegation to meet the prisoners themselves and scrutinise the conditions in the death row cells.

Issued by,
N Surendran
Lawyers for Liberty