SINGAPORE: The Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) is investigating the circumstances surrounding the arrest of a 17-year-old suspect who later died by suicide after he was charged with drug trafficking offences.
Investigations are expected to be completed before the end of October, CNB said in a Facebook post on Wednesday (Oct 13), adding that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) intends to make the findings public.
“Upon completion of the investigations, MHA will also take further steps as necessary,” CNB said.
The agency’s comments came after Instagram user Cecilia Ow posted about how her son Justin had died after falling from height on Sep 16, months after being arrested on Feb 3 for a drug-related offence.
The Instagram post on Tuesday contained a screenshot of a letter she had sent to Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Oct 1, in which she described how Justin was allegedly mistreated during the investigation process.
“I believe that the CNB officers and the prosecutorial system drove Justin to his death,” she wrote. “The mental, psychological and emotional trauma inflicted on him was brutal, unnecessary and insensitive.”
On Wednesday, CNB acknowledged that “statements have been made publicly” about how Justin was arrested and questioned, and that the allegations are being fully investigated.
Mr Shanmugam had contacted Justin’s mother personally on Oct 1 to assure her that a thorough review of the matter would be conducted, said CNB.
“Justin’s mother was also provided with the contact details for Minister Shanmugam and Minister of State for Ministry of Home Affairs, Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim. She was told that she could contact the ministers directly, at any time, on this matter,” it added.
“CNB has also arranged for psychological support to be provided to her during this difficult period.”
ALLEGATIONS OF WHAT HAPPENED
In her letter, Ms Ow claimed that “six to nine” CNB officers had chased Justin down before arresting him on Feb 3, adding that they raided his room but found nothing.
Justin was interrogated in an “abrasive” manner, held in custody in “less than ideal” conditions and was not allowed to contact his family, she alleged.
According to CNB, Justin was suspected of trafficking a Class A controlled drug online.
He was arrested at Serangoon North Ave 4 and officers had recovered drugs from another location in the area, said CNB. “The evidence indicated that the drugs belonged to Justin and that they were meant for sale,” the agency said.
CNB added that Justin was released on bail the next day on Feb 4.
The Attorney-General’s Chambers then decided in June that Justin be charged with drug trafficking offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act, CNB said.
According to Ms Ow, on Jun 23 at 12.30pm, Justin reported to the CNB headquarters “without prior knowledge” that he was going to be charged.
She claimed that Justin was held in a frigid cell, prohibited from doing push-ups to warm himself up and was only allowed to be bailed out at 8pm.
CNB said Justin was released on the same day after he was served with the charges.
“Normally, persons charged with drug-related offences will not be released on bail, until produced in court. Nevertheless, CNB made an exception and released Justin after he was served with the charges on Jun 23, because he was 17 years old,” the agency added.
Justin was then charged in court on Jun 24 and released on court bail.
Ms Ow said Justin “became a different person” after his encounter with CNB officers, hiding in his room all day and only appearing for meals or to use the toilet. He stopped talking to family members, could not focus on his studies and had frequent nightmares after his “brutal arrest”, she said.
“His psychologist told me that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder,” she wrote, adding that Justin had seen a psychologist at the Institute of Mental Health from February right up to his death.
CNB said it is aware of Justin’s death after falling from height, adding that the police are also investigating the matter.
“CNB understands Justin’s mother’s grief and will continue to render assistance to her,” it said.
Where to get help:
Samaritans of Singapore Hotline: 1800 221 4444
Institute of Mental Health’s Helpline: 6389 2222
Singapore Association of Mental Health Helpline: 1800 283 7019
You can also find a list of international helplines here. If someone you know is at immediate risk, call 24-hour emergency medical services.