'I first met Subhas in jail'

'I first met Subhas in jail'

I first met Subhas Anandan about 40 years ago in the most unlikely of places - a hospital ward in Changi Prison.

Clad in prison-issue hospital clothes, he was seated calmly on a bed, and I was the prison officer rostered to the hospital wing and doing the rounds.

Singapore's best-known criminal lawyer in recent times, Subhas was 67 when he died last Wednesday, less than two weeks after his birthday on Christmas Day.

But in 1976, he was a newly admitted detainee under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, which allows for detention without trial.

Suspected of being in a secret society, he was held at the Queenstown Remand Prison. But shortly afterwards, he was admitted to the hospital ward at Changi Prison for psychiatric observation.

We did not talk much since we were on opposite sides of the fence as it were.

But among other things, he did tell me how terrified he was and expressed disbelief at being locked up in a single cell in Queenstown prison.

He said he had slammed his fists against the wooden door ceaselessly, a possible symptom of the claustrophobia that triggered his transfer to Changi.

In less than a month, he was cleared medically and was taken back to Queenstown, where he stayed among more than 300 detainees.

He was generally well-respected by those in detention, who admired his position as a lawyer, and, having grown up with four siblings in the rough and tumble of a Sembawang kampung, he was able to relate to them.

He was freed after nine months, and placed on police supervision for a spell following a probe which saw a police inspector prosecuted but cleared by a court in 1977 for the alleged frame-up of Subhas.

It is said that jail can break a man. But in his case, it seemed only to strengthen his commitment to defend alleged thieves, rapists and murderers who could not afford access to lawyers, no matter how heinous their offences.

As he once said: "I understand their plight better."

Examples abound.

Like the case of an alleged molester for whom he successfully obtained an acquittal.

The man's mother approached him when he was working at Harry Elias Partnership and offered him $5,000 - all of her life's savings.

He told her to keep the money as her gratitude was reward enough.

Or the case of vegetable packer Took Leng How, who killed eight-year-old Huang Na, a sensational case in 2004.

In an interview with this paper last November, Subhas recalled the day he took up the case for free after Took's parents went to see him after taking an overnight bus from Penang.

"They really looked tired and they had no sleep. They said, 'Please help our son.' His grandmother was also there and she fell on my legs.

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