Last minute change of venue due to “misrepresented” event

By Terry Xu

MARUAH had to change the venue for its public forum “Foreign Workers, Justice and Fairness” that was held yesterday on Dec 23rd, at extremely short notice.

The venue was originally set to be at the hall on the second floor of Ananda Bhavan Restaurant at Syed Alwi Road (opposite Mustafa Centre). The NGO had already paid for the venue and the publicity posters were released on Thursday with the venue stated in the poster.

On MURUAH’s facebook status, they said that they received a call from the restaurant’s management on the evening of 21st of December to inform them that the police had called them to ask about the event, and spoken to them about the foreign workers in their employment.

The NGO then contacted the police to inform that the event was legal and ask that the police to contact them to seek any clarifications needed, as they did not want the restaurant to be caught in between. The NGO also informed the management of the restaurant of the event’s programme so as to assure them that everything was proper.

However, the restaurant then sent a SMS stating that ‘after consulting the police and advice from the Board’, the restaurant decided to cancel the booking and would refund the money paid.

MARUAH issued this statement over the incident:

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“MARUAH registers our protest over this blatant harassment by the government against lawful and legitimate civil society activities. Through this forum, we are seeking to build bridges in the community, to ask for equal access to justice for all and to deepen our understanding of the issues faced by foreign workers. This discussion is necessary and important to our society.

So we are disappointed at these tactics employed by the police. We sympathise with the management of Ananda Bhavan Restaurant. They have clearly been unsettled by the call from the police.

But there was no need for the police to contact the restaurant and subject them to unwarranted fear and anxiety. MARUAH is open, above-board, and easily contactable. The police could and should have contacted us, as organisers of the event, to ask any questions and seek any clarifications they might have. To date, we have still not heard from the police.

We appreciate the concerns that the police may have, and would have done our part to address any concerns that they may have had, if they had only contacted us. But civil society has a right, even a moral duty, to organise such events, and the government has to respect and protect this right, not take steps to undermine our legitimate exercise of our lawful rights.

MARUAH regrets that we have no choice but to say that the approach adopted through the police was unnecessarily restrictive and oppressive, and has only served to reduce the common space for Singaporeans to speak up and play an active role in society.”

[s[spacer style=”1" icon=”none”]p>TODAY reported on this incident saying,

“The police have explained that their concern about “a potential law and order issue” was what prompted them to “seek more information” from a restaurant in Little India at Syed Alwi Road that was to have been the venue for a public forum on issues relating to the Dec 8 riot.

The Ananda Bhavan Restaurant owner’s cancellation of the booking was of his own volition, while he also claimed that the forum’s organisers had “misrepresented the nature of the event”, a police spokesman added.”

While Straits Times reported on its online version of the newspaper saying,

“Human rights group Maruah had misrepresented the nature of a foreign worker rights forum to the owner of a venue they intended to use for the event, the police said on Monday.

In a media statement, the police said they were informed of this by the owner of the Ananda Bhavan restaurant in Little India.

The owner then cancelled the booking for the event “of his own volition”, the authorities added.”

Though it is understandable that the police are doing what they are supposed to do to ensure the security of the country, especially at this moment of heightened tension due to the recent incident at Little India. But it is still bewildering that the police choose to contact the management of the restaurant to clarify on their concerns over the issues of law and order instead of the event organisers themselves.

To simply push the decision of cancelling the booking of the event as being the sole discretion of the restaurant owner is irresponsible and say that the restaurant owner have claimed that the forum’s organisers had misrepresented the nature of the event is outrageous.

Straits Times report that Ananda Bhavan chief executive Viren Ettikan’s decision was reached after the police visited them and mentioned the need for stability in the neighbourhood after the Dec 9 riot.

“He thought the event was “for some charitable cause, or a discussion.” “Now the police are trying their best to ensure things are stable, we should as a business, ensure that everything is smooth, not add to any such things,” he said on Monday.” – Straits Times

How is it possible to misrepresent the nature of an event where a group of people sitting together listening to people speaking? Under what category would the event organisers have told the restaurant this forum to be, that would have been misrepresented the actual event to the management for the money collected in the first place? What misrepresentation would spur the restaurant to cancel the event last minute? Or they think that this might be something that be illegal since the police called to ask about the event?

What the restaurant owner might not have expected is not the nature of the event but likely the intervention of the police.

The article was updated with information from ST.