It would appear that the police have taken action against 55 persons who took part in a protest held at Merlion Park in May (link). Home Affairs Second Minister S Iswaran was reticent in stating specifically what these actions entailed. All he said was that “foreigners who conduct such activities would be dealt with, including termination of their work passes”. He went further to state that foreign politicians would not be permitted to campaign in Singapore and that the ministry was “categorical about it”.
I wonder if there is a need to be so “categorical” about it?
Singapore embraces so many foreigners within its workforce. Surely that comes with some responsibility towards the civil rights of these foreigners as well?
I am not suggesting that Singapore is in any way obligated to intervene in the domestic issues of a particular country but permitting our foreign residents the right to peacefully protest against an issue that affects their respective countries is surely acceptable. This is especially the case with the many Malaysians who live among us. Malaysia is our closest neighbouring country and there are many Malaysians who live and contribute meaningfully alongside us. Many Malaysians I know consider Singapore to be their home while at the same time, having great affinity to Malaysia as the country of their birth. Despite living in Singapore, they will still take great interest in the developments in Malaysia. I would not construe such interest as an importation of their domestic politics into Singapore which “disturbs the public order” of Singapore.
In many cosmopolitan cities throughout the world, peaceful protests about “foreign issues” is considered normal and part and parcel of living in a global democratic city. Take London for instance – have the police “taken action” against residents who have protested about the situation in Syria? For the avoidance of doubt, this is a rhetorical question.
In an increasingly globalised world, the lines between what is strictly domestic and foreign is fast blurring and it is artificial to draw such arbitrary lines when it comes to peaceful protests, a hallmark of democracy (link).
Does Singapore want to join the echelons of global cities? If so, it must accept that its foreign residents would have a natural inquisitiveness towards both the issues of their adoptive country and that of their home nations.
Separately, why be so vague about what these “actions” taken against foreigners entail? This lack of detail reminds me of the new MDA online reforms which does not set down firm guidelines. Whether intentional or not, this acts as a veiled threat against anything which the government may deem unsuitable.
Our Internet policies and our attitude towards foreigners are inextricably linked. Our need for foreign investment and immigrants has been defended countless times by the government. The stance the government has taken towards the Internet and towards these peaceful protests therefore seems incongruous. It leads me to think that this is an attempt to control errant Singaporeans who may either influence other Singaporeans through the world wide web or who may be emboldened by the dissatisfaction expressed in Malaysia to similarly express their discontent within Singapore’s borders.
These insidious attempts at control will alienate Singaporeans even further.
Singaporeans want greater engagement and accountability. More open debate and dialogue is what will bridge the divide between the governed and the governing, not another murky layer of control.