(Petaling Jaya, Friday): The Prisons Director-General, Datuk Omar Modhamad Dan, has been misinformed when he said that DAP Deputy Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Guan Eng, had not lost any weight in his 22 days in Kajang Prisons, maintaining a weight of 65 kilogram all along from the very first day he entered Kajang Prisons on August 25.
In actual fact, Guan Eng lost six pounds in his first 18 days in Kajang Prison from August 25 to Sept. 11 - which was why Guan Eng’s wife, Betty Chew, held a press conference on Sunday, September 13, 1998 expressing the family’s concern at Guan Eng’s health. Guan Eng has lost another two pounds in the subsequent four days, making a weight loss of eight pounds in 22 days from August 25 to Sept. 16.
It goes against common sense that a person thrown into jail for 22 days has not lost any weight at all. Clearly, something is wrong with the weighing machine which had been used to supply the Prisons Director-General with the incorrect information and the Weights and Measures Department should send an officer to Kajang Prisons to ensure that all the weighing machines are working correctly.
There is another weighing machine in Kajang Prisons which shows that Guan Eng weighed 159 pounds on Sept. 11 and 157 pounds on Sept. 16, as compared to his weight of 165 pounds when he entered Kajang Prisons on August 25.
The ideal weight for Guan Eng would be 150 pounds. If Guan Eng’s weight is 65 kg, which converts to 143 pounds, this would mean that Guan Eng would have lost some 22 pounds in his 22 days in Kajang Prisons - even more serious than the eight-pound loss he actually suffered during the period.
In any event, it should not be very difficult to establish whether Guan Eng has lost eight pounds in 22 days in Kajang Prisons, and the Malaysian Medical Association could probably send a medical team to get to the truth of the matter.
If Guan Eng has not lost any weight in his 22 days, one simple way to establish this will be for Guan Eng to be produced before a media conference for all the reporters and photographers to see with their own eyes whether Guan Eng has lost eight pounds or had not lost any weight since his incarceration in Kajang Prison.
My family and I are quite upset at some of the newspaper reports of the media conference by Omar which gives the impression that Guan Eng was having a good time in Kajang Prison, that he was not suffering at all, and even worse, that Betty Chew and I had made false and baseless allegations about Guan Eng’s conditions in Kajang Prison.
For instance, Guang Ming Daily carried the front-page headline "Guan Eng Eat Well Sleep Well", while The Sun carried the page heading "Prisons DG: Guan Eng not suffering" reporting Guan Eng as in "excellent health", while the New Straits Times report described the family’s allegations as "deceiving".
I have studied carefully the five-page statement by Omar and I am satisfied that he did not make any statement or imputation that Guan Eng was having an enjoyable time in Kajang Prison or that he is in excellent health or that Betty Chew and I had made baseless allegations about Guan Eng’s condition in Kajang Prison.
What Betty Chew and I said about Guan Eng’s condition in Kajang Prison were totally true and correct when we made the statements but I want to thank Omar for making changes since then.
For the record, let me deal with the various specific issues which Betty Chew and I had raised about Guan Eng’s condition in Kajang Prison.
1. Guan Eng losing six pounds in 18 days and eight pounds
in 22 days in Kajang Prison, which I have already dealt with at the beginning
of this statement.
2. On 13th Sept. Betty Chew told a media conference that Guan Eng was suffering acute back pain since the start of his jail sentence in Kajang Prison for having to sleep on the cement floor without a mattress. The back pain was so acute that it caused Guan Eng to wake up every two hours or so at night.
Omar said that as a Category Two Prisoner, Guan Eng is not entitled to any mattress, instead they are given two blankets and that so far no other prisoner has suffered adverse health effects.
I do not think any medical doctor would dare to say that a person sleeping on the cold and hard cement floor without any mattress would not cause any adverse health effects, or such a doctor should try it out on himself first.
Guan Eng had at first tried to conceal his acute back pains from the family for fear of causing worry but the pain has persisted.
I fully agree with my daughter-in-law Betty Chew who called on the prison authorities to take seriously Guan Eng’s weight loss and to immediately give Guan Eng specialist treatment and care for his acute back pain and to allow him a foam mattress so as not to permanently damage Guan Eng’s health.
However severe the prison rules and regulations, they should not damage a prisoner’s health, whether he be a Member of Parliament like Guan Eng or any other person, regardless of the offences he had committed.
In the Star, Omar said that since the first day, Guan Eng had been given all the necessary medical attention including "analgesic and heat treatment for his back pain".
I thank Omar for giving Guan Eng all the necessary medical attention, but I would urge the Prison Department to practise "preventive medicine" as Guan Eng’s back pain would not have arisen at all if he is allowed a foam mattress instead of having to sleep on the hard and cold cement floor.
I am not asking for any special treatment for Guan Eng - definitely not a waterbed - but the most basic humane treatment to ensure that he does not suffer life-long health damage as a result of the prison condition. - something which should be enjoyed by every prisoner as well!
3. Betty Chew said in her media conference on 13th Sept. : "He drinks from the tap water in the cell, which is used for all purposes."
Omar said yesterday that each cell was supplied with piped water for sanitary purposes and boiled water for the inmates’ consumption. Additionally, each block is provided with an electric kettle for hot water.
Yesterday itself, Guan Eng’s block was given a kettle, when previously there was none and Guan Eng had to drink from the piped water in the cell meant for sanitary purpose. I hope henceforth Guan Eng would be drinking boiled water in Kajang Prisons and no more piped water.
I note Omar’s statement as quoted in the Sun: "The tap water is for toilet use only. Prisoners are given drinking water".
4. In her statement on 13th Sept. 1998, Betty Chew said: "He is not allowed at least half-an-hour exercise a day, which Nelson Mandela was entitled to when the South African President was jailed by the apartheid South African government."
Yesterday, Omar said Guan Eng is allowed to exercise 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening daily. I can confirm that Guan Eng started on his 30-minute exercise yesterday morning and I hope that he will continue to be allowed 30 minutes daily exercise in the morning and evening without any more problem.
5. In her statement on 13th Sept. 1998, Betty Chew said: "Guan
Eng has not received any letter although many people inside and outside
the country had written to him since his jailing on August 25."
Yesterday, Omar said Guan Eng "had admitted to receiving letters and postcards from the day he was imprisoned till today", and according to the Sun, he showed a document showing the amount of mail Guan Eng received with his signature at the bottom.
I confirm that Guan Eng received received his mail on 15th Sept. and he did sign the document as shown to the media by Omar.
6. On 13th Sept. 1998, Betty Chew said: "He is denied the daily newspapers. He is allowed three books at a time. When a person is jailed, his body is imprisoned, but his mind should be free. Why impose the limit of three books at any one time for a prisoner when the government is talking about promoting a knowledge society?"
Yesterday, Omar confirms that Guan Eng is not allowed any newspapers and that he is allowed a maximum of five books in his cell.
Guan Eng was allowed five books from yesterday, although I do not see why there should be any limitation on the number of books for a prisoner in the first place. I would urge Omar to allow Guan Eng full access to newspapers, especially as Guan Eng is still Member of Parliament so that he could at least keep abreast with developments both inside and outside the country.
7. Yesterday, Omar said Guan Eng was never detained in a "dark room" and that this fact was established when Guan Eng’s wife said that her husband was "bored reading the same books".
Neither Betty Chew nor I had ever said that Guan Eng was detained in a "dark room". In her media conference on 13th Sept. Betty Chew had already clarified this when she said: "Omar disputed a press report quoting me as saying that Guan Eng is kept in a dark cell. Omar is right. Guan Eng is not kept in a dark cell, but in solitary confinement in a cell where the lights are on 24 hours a day. This is a mistake made by one newspaper although other newspapers got it right, as they quoted me as saying that Guan Eng was kept in a cell where the lights were on for 24 hours a day."
There is clearly a need for prison reform especially as the Prison Rules 1953 drafted in the British colonial times have not caught up with modern philosophy of penal reforms.
I have just been given a copy of the Prison Rules 1953 and has not got the time to make a detailed study, but a cursory reading of it shows that it is most outdated and needs a total overhaul.
I find it shocking that 41 years after Independence, Malaysia is still using the prison rules of the British colonialists which among other things provide for one egg once a week and beehoon twice a month for the prisoners.
HAKAM, the National Human Rights Society, has written to Omar on Tuesday asking that Guan Eng, who is still MP for Kota Melaka until the disposal of his petition of pardon to the Yang di Pertuan Agong, should be allowed to discharge his duties of office as Member of Parliament to his electorate.
The next Parliament will begin on Oct. 15, with the 1999 budget scheduled for 23rd October. Guan Eng should be allowed access to all newspapers so that he could prepare parliamentary questions to be submitted to the budget meeting of Parliament.