The more I read into this article, the more upset I got. Imagine if the Singapore Immigration had treated an innocent U.S citizen this way. Wow! I cannot even begin to articulate what might happen... it would be on CNN; the American would interviewed on every network news... Singapore would be condemned by Americans. Yet, has this country heard of ANY unjust practice as such?! What a joke! Just ask any 'alien' about their immigration experience. Everyone's got a 'bully story'!
WHAT was to be a business trip turned into a hellish nightmare for a Singaporean marketing director.
Mr Ronald Wong with the tag which displayed information about him. --Picture: LIANHE WANBAO
He was interrogated, handcuffed, chained at the feet, and even spent some time in a prison facility. He was detained in a holding cell, slept in a prison bed and also ordered to work in the jail.
It was Mr Ronald Wong Yoke Kheong's first trip to the United States. His flight landed in Houston at 8.30pm (local time) on 4 May. He saw two police officers at the plane's exit door, checking each passenger's passport as they disembarked.
The 49-year-old marketing director, a seasoned traveller said: 'I thought it was just a routine check. But the two officers stopped me after checking my passport. They took me aside, and said they wanted to speak to me.
'I still wasn't worried because I thought they just wanted to ask a few more questions before letting me go.' He did feel the glare of other passengers as he was led away by the two officers. 'The officers didn't even allow me to collect my luggage at the belt.'
Mr Wong had to hand over the luggage collection slip to the officers while he was escorted to an office.
He had left Singapore on 4 May, a Sunday, on an early morning flight to participate in a trade exhibition in Houston from 5 to 8 May. After that, he was scheduled to go to New Orleans, and Canada, and was to return only on 17 May.
Mr Wong said he travelled regularly for work, about three times a month, to various countries, including China, Japan, India and the Middle East. But these were usually short trips which lasted five days at most.
On the US trip, some of his clients had been on the same flight as him.
At the Houston airport, Mr Wong was taken to a room with glass windows, It had only a table and a few chairs. He noticed that the officers outside were all armed.
'I was still not worried, as I knew I didn't commit any crime.' But alarm bells started to go off in his head when an officer ordered him to remove all items from his pockets.
'I was allowed to wear my watch, but I had to hand over my handphone, my wallet and check-in luggage,' he said. The only exception was the cash in his wallet. He had about USD$7,500 ($10,250) as well as some Singapore money.
Mr Wong was then taken into a room next door, where he would spend the next 19 hours under interrogation.
'I asked to make a call to my company and wife to inform them, but the officers didn't allow me to,' he said. 'They started to ask me a number of questions. I gave my answers readily as I knew I was speaking the truth.'
Mr Wong said he was questioned about the purpose of his visits to all the countries reflected in his passport, where he stayed in those countries, whom he met on his business trips, and if he had bank accounts in these countries.
'They repeated the questions over and over. It was exhausting, but I answered all their questions,' he said. Mr Wong, who said he could be hot-tempered at times, remained calm throughout the interrogation process.
'I didn't allow myself to lose my patience. I told myself that I was in foreign territory and it was best to co-operate and not antagonise the local authorities,' he added. He said he was questioned by at least three shifts of officers who worked in pairs. 'I felt like a piece of meat in the microwave,' said Mr Wong of his being grilled.
He said he was not given any food, but was allowed to drink from a water cooler and to go to the toilet. But his every movement was watched.
Mr Wong said at one point, an officer who introduced himself as a CIA officer also questioned him for about four hours.
After 19 hours of being questioned and going without food, the worst was yet to come.
'The next day at about 3pm, two prison officers came and wanted to handcuff me and shackle my ankles,' he said. 'I asked them why, but they said it was the standard procedure.'
The handcuffs and leg cuffs were chained together.
'It was very humiliating to be treated like a convict. The leg cuffs hurt and I had to walk like Frankenstein since my movements were restricted,' Mr Wong recounted.
'I couldn't even hold up my hands to scratch my nose.'
But he told himself to stay calm, and hoped his colleagues in the Houston office would look for him when he didn't show up for the exhibition. He said he usually called his wife and secretary to keep them informed of his whereabouts when he travelled.
He was put in a van and taken to a prison, where he was told to change into a blue prison uniform. He had to hand over all his possessions, and was put in a holding cell with four benches with about 20 other people.
That was when he started to feel a real sense of fear.
'I was starving, I didn't know what was going on. I started to think maybe I would end up there forever, for a reason I didn't even know,' he said.
He said he was there for about 12 hours before he was taken to another cell with nearly 60 other prisoners, where he was given a bed.
At one point, he was ordered to work with the other prisoners on some chores, but he refused.
'In all my travelling experience in the past 20 years, I have never been in such a situation. I wondered if it was a case of mistaken identity,' he said.
He counted the minutes as the time passed agonisingly by in the cell. After another 24 hours, he was given back his clothes and taken back to the detention room at the airport.
'The questioning continued. And my requests to make phone calls were denied,' he said.
The hours wore on and Mr Wong grew more weary and despondent.
Finally there was a glimpse of hope when he was told the Singapore Embassy wanted to speak with him.
'I was relieved that someone knew about my plight, and I asked the embassy official to inform my wife.'
The embassy official asked if he was all right and how he had been treated.
At about 10pm, three days after his ordeal began, Mr Wong was told he was to be deported. No reason was given to Mr Wong for his detention. His belongings were returned to him, and he was escorted by two police officers to his seat on the plane, which was scheduled to depart at 11.45pm (local time).
'It was very humiliating to be escorted onto the plane with the other passengers staring. I wasn't even allowed to hold my own passport,' he said.
But he was finally allowed to call his wife.
'I just focused on having my freedom back and going home,' he said. 'I was thankful the Singapore Embassy helped secure my release so quickly.'
A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman confirmed a Singaporean was detained at the Houston Airport and that the Singapore Embassy in Washington had provided the necessary consular assistance.
But Mr Wong's ordeal did not end when the plane took off from Houston. When he was in transit in Moscow, he was escorted from the plane by two Russian police officers and kept under watch. He was later also escorted onto the Singapore-bound plane.
He finally arrived in Singapore on 8May. He was escorted by two Singapore police officers after he got off the plane. After he cleared immigration, he met his wife who was at the airport.
Until today, Mr Wong does not know why he was detained. He said he has written to the US embassy here for an explanation.By Heidi Khoo
May 20, 2008
The New Paper (Singapore)