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Singapore prisons rejects claims that it intentionally blocked death row inmate from submitting legal application 

The Singapore Prison Service also disputed events laid out in a complaint by the sister of Abdul Rahim Shapiee, who is due to hang on Friday.

Singapore prisons rejects claims that it intentionally blocked death row inmate from submitting legal application 

The entrance gate of Changi Prison. (File photo: Singapore Prison Service)

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Prison Service (SPS) has rejected claims made by the sister of a death row inmate.

The claims alleged that SPS had intentionally obstructed the submission of a legal application in order to facilitate the inmate's execution which is currently scheduled for Friday (Aug 5).

In a statement issued on Thursday, SPS said these claims were "untrue". 

SPS also disputed events laid out in a complaint letter addressed to Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and penned by Norhafizah Shapiee, the sister of Abdul Rahim Shapiee, a 45-year-old man convicted in 2018 of possessing drugs for trafficking.

Norhafizah wrote in the letter that Abdul Rahim had been “denied access to the court” when trying to file a civil claim through the prison registry. The nature of the claim was not mentioned.

She said her brother and other death row inmates had given relevant documents to prison officers on Jul 25, requesting that the claim be filed urgently. However, she said the authorities refused to help and asked the inmates for “application forms and e-litigation forms”.

“Obviously, as they are death row prisoners, it is impossible for them to make available these forms,” wrote Norhafizah. 

The application was not filed and on Jul 29, Abdul Rahim was given notice that he would be hanged on Aug 5.

“I worry that the prison was aware on Jul 25 of his scheduled execution ... and therefore blocked his application,” said his sister.

But on Thursday, SPS said that no prisoner awaiting capital punishment had approached any of its officers on Jul 25 to request to file any legal application.

SPS said that it was on Jul 28 that two other death row prisoners sought an SPS officer’s advice on filing a civil claim.

“Since the advice related to legal proceedings to be filed in court, the SPS officer told them that they should seek advice from the court on the specific documents required ... as well as the fees involved,” said the correctional agency on Thursday. 

“This is the standard procedure for prisoners who are not assisted by legal counsel for the filing of non-routine applications.”

The prison service later amended the above statement the following day to say that the SPS officers had told the death row inmates to seek "clarifications" from the court, instead of "advice".

SPS said it did not wish to suggest or imply that the Courts, as a neutral party, "provides (legal) advice on matters such as the type of forms used in the filing of applications, but instead, provide clarifications upon request".

Examples of routine applications which SPS staff are familiar with include those for criminal motions and judicial reviews, said SPS.

One of the death row prisoners then asked for a letterform to write to the court but it was not used, according to SPS.

The agency noted that its officers did not ask the prisoners for any application form or e-litigation form, as alleged by Norhafizah. 

SPS also said that the two death row prisoners did not mention that their civil claim involved Abdul Rahim, or that it needed urgent attention.

On Aug 1, a set of documents was submitted to SPS who then helped to file this with the court on behalf of the death row inmates.

For payment of an application fee to file the documents, SPS made arrangements with the family of the death row inmate representing the claimants in the civil claim, added the agency.

“A SPS officer was present at the Supreme Court to assist with the filing of the application,” it said in its statement. “The application was successfully filed on the same afternoon (Aug 1).”

In a civil claim filed against the Attorney-General on Aug 1, 24 death row inmates - including Abdul Rahim - argued that their access to lawyers for appeals and reviews of their cases was obstructed. They said the power of the courts to order costs against defence lawyers made them afraid to take up legal challenges.

But a High Court judge on Wednesday struck out the lawsuit in the interests of justice, calling the claim an abuse of process and "plainly unsustainable and unmeritorious".

The judge also addressed a request for a stay of execution by Abdul Rahim, saying he would allow it if the claimants appealed against his decision by Thursday morning.

An appeal hearing is scheduled at the Court of Appeal on Thursday afternoon, 2.30pm.

Source: CNA/jo(zl)

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