Prison withholds letters sent to death row inmate

Last month, the Transformative Justice Collective ran the #DearSyed letter-writing campaign encouraging members of the public to write letters to Syed Suhail bin Syed Zin, a death row inmate who was almost executed twice last year. As far as we know, about 20 letters were written; while some are still with us, to be delivered during family visits, others were posted directly to Syed. 

As of 3 April, Syed hadn’t received any of the letters, even those that were posted in the first half of March. We have since come to understand that about six letters were rejected by the prison authorities; according to Syed, it was because prison management did not know who the letter-writers were, and claimed that there were ‘security issues’.

It is currently unclear which of the many letters written to Syed are among the six that were rejected. However, we published some of these letters on our website; among them are poems, drawings, descriptions of birds, and messages from children. Though written by members of the public, the letters contain no content that could pose a threat to any form of security. We do not see any reason for the authorities to withhold them from Syed.

While prison authorities are responsible for the administration and security of prisons, this power should be exercised judiciously.

Death row inmates already live extremely isolated lives, cut off from society. The knowledge that they are in prison awaiting execution only adds to their stress and anxiety. It is inhumane and unethical to arbitrarily deprive them of contact with the outside world.

While prison authorities are responsible for the administration and security of prisons, this power should be exercised judiciously, and should not be abused to withhold correspondence without clear justification. 

In a previous statement, we noted the injustice of the prison service having forwarded inmates’ private correspondence to the Attorney-General’s Chambers without their consent.   Withholding correspondence from inmates like Syed is but a mere extension of the disproportionate discretionary powers that prison authorities grant themselves to filter and to surveille the communications that pass in and out of prison, without needing to be accountable to the public.

Withholding correspondence from inmates is but a mere extension of the disproportionate discretionary powers that prison authorities grant themselves to surveille the communications that pass in and out of prison.

Far from creating any security risk, the #DearSyed letters are full of goodwill and gestures of solace that aim only to express hope and care for Syed. We urge the Singapore Prison Service to allow these letters to reach Syed as soon as possible.

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