Prisons Chief Talks Of Anwar's Wonderful Prison Conditions

The government is on an offensive to prove to Malaysians that Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim's prison conditions are as perfect as it can be. The director-general of prisons, Dato' Omar Mohamed Dan, told a controlled press conference for Bernama and the official Radio Television Malaysia yesterday, of how, despite looking after the jailed former deputy prime minister, his supporters in 30 Mercedes Benzes and other vehilces -- the Bernama report described it as a mob -- created a ruckus outside Sungei Buloh prison last prison. The staff must have been under tremendous pressure by this mob, but you see while the police chief may beat up the just sacked deputy prime minister, the prisons chief would not be so crass as to beat up his supporters. So, the interview was also to appeal to his supporters, family and lawyers to "understand that Datuk Seri Anwar is serving a jail term and is subject to prison conditions like other convicts." Last Sunday's incident, he said, is the second of a "large group" of Anwar supporters to gather in front of the prison. Of course, a police report has been lodged.

But mark you, the prisoner is well looked after. He gets a "balanced and scheduled" diet of chicken, meat, fresh fish, salted fish, vegetables and fruits "approved by the Health Ministry". Of course, doctors can prescribe other diet, and in Dato' Seri Anwar's case, because of an unspecified ailment, his salt fish quota is replaced with eggs and fresh fish. Besides, he gets a low salt diet, and since he does not take coffee or tea, he gets Milo instead. For security reasons, he has a room in the prison's hospital block, and contrary to allegations, he gets a mattress, pillows, blank and other basic necessities. After all, the Sungei Buloh prison is not the Shangri-La hotel. The prison chief refuted allegations he slept on the cement floor. And in the interest of transparency (I wonder how many other crimes this damned word hides?), the two organisations' television crew were offered an opportunity to film and photograph Dato' Seri Anwar's room, but the decidedly untransparent officers would not allow it. Dato' Seri Anwar was at the court fighting to prevent an official attempt to extend his stay in these salubrious surroundings.

Even the health facilities he enjoys are so good that people outside could not even afford it. He has had treatment in the Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Hospital in Klang, the University hospital in Petaling Jaya and the Kuala Lumpur Hospital for further treatment. He would not say what ailment his VIP prisoner suffers from, but "we take him to hospital when the need arises no matter at what time." Once he had to be taken to hospital at four in the morning but, of course, he is generally in good health. He gets all opportunities to keep himself in good health, allowed physical work in the prison hospital yard, join other prisoners for Friday prayers, gets newspapers, books and magazines. And would you know, that when his lawyers come a calling, they would order meehoon or nasi lemak from the prison canteen. And he gets his regular family visits.

The controlled environment would not allow critical or serious questions. Especially, despite this wonderful treatment he gets in Sungei Buloh, he continues to lose weight, looks sick, just as the DAP leader, Mr Lim Guan Eng, was in Kajang prison. His sometimes pallid face is perhaps another proof that the former deputy prime minister continue to rant and rave against this five-star treatment he gets in prison by illhealth. His frequent visits to hospital could well be the rumoured tuberculosis he suffers from. There is no confirmation of this, but rumours of this persist. He clearly suffers from unspecified ailments. The prisons chief, in his interview, produced more doubts about his state of health than the rumours could have provided. You do not rush a man to hospital at 4 am because he has a stomach ache. He is taken to different hospitals, obviously because he suffers from something that is serious. Especially since  VIP prisoners do get special treatment without prisons chiefs crowing about it as Dato' Omar does. With Tan Sri Shariff Ahmad, the retired cabinet minister, I visited Dato' Mokhtar Hashim, the former
cabinet minister, in Pudu prison where he was serving a life sentence for murder -- he has since been released and pardoned -- and we were received in right royal style, the meeting taking place in the superintendent's office with better-than-prison fare for refreshments. And so, Dato' Harun Idris, the former mentri besar of Selangor, when food was brought for us from outside.

But neither were as sick as Dato' Seri Anwar and Mr Lim Guan Eng clearly are. Nor the spin doctoring of prison officials about how they fared in prison. The prisons chief could have deflected all this had he called an open press conference of even just the local press. When he attempts to deflect the intrusive questioning he could have expected from a larger media turnout, what he has to say has to be taken with a pinch of salt, even if, like Dato' Seri Anwar, one has to reduce salt intake. If he wanted to defuse the whirling rumours surrounding He Who Must Be Destroyed At All Cost, he should have been transparent than his offices are. It would have been better for him not to have given the media at all. After all, there were three attempts to ensure he did survive his post-dismissal mess he found himself in before his conviction.

M.G.G. Pillai