SDP: Ministers’ silence on Benjamin Lim’s suicide troubling

The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), in its latest statement, calls upon the Singapore Government to fully account to members of the public over the incident involving the death of 14-year-old, Benjamin Lim.

On 26 January, Benjamin was visited by five plain-clothes police officers at school during school hours over an alleged case of molestation. He was then brought to the police station to be interviewed for over 3 hours without the accompaniment of his parents. Soon after reaching home, he locked himself in his room and jumped to his death from the 14th floor of his flat. (read more)

The party statement, penned by Dr. Wong Souk Yee, SDP Chairperson said it would have been common sense for authorities to proceed with caution while dealing with minors and the priority of the school authorities should have been the protection of students’ welfare.

SDP also voiced its concern over the silence of the ministers from the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Home Affairs and said that the ministers should address the situation and see how the matter can be resolved and future incidents prevented.

The statement by SDP in full

The SDP expresses our deepest sympathies to the family of Benjamin Lim. His suicide is a tragedy that could have been avoided.

There is a reason why the law and society treat minors differently from adults: They are presumed to not possess the full maturity in thought and deed as adults. Common sense would have indicated to the authorities to proceed with caution when dealing with minors. Yet, five police officers were dispatched to arrest the boy.

Even if the police were concerned that Benjamin would not be co-operative and could overpower the officers and escape, how far could he have run? And even if he did make a getaway, did the police not have his family, school and classmates that they could contact?

Also of concern is whether the number of officers sent to arrest Benjamin signaled an aggressive police mindset that was carried over into the interrogation room.

School officials must be aware that their duty is, first and foremost, to protect students’ welfare as well as their families’ interests. Doing this would not impede law enforcement officers from carrying out their duty. It would, on the other hand, help to prevent tragedies like Benjamin’s suicide from taking place.

But there is something else that is equally disconcerting. The Ministers for Law, Education, and Home Affairs have kept silent on the matter. Given that a teenager has committed suicide resulting from a series of actions involving the police and the school, it behooves the Ministers to, at the minimum, address the situation and see how the matter can be resolved and future incidents prevented.

Instead of looking into the matter, Todayonline runs a headline saying: “MPs, experts laud police review of interview process involving minors”. Why are MPs and the media not speaking up on investigating the circumstances that led to a 14-year-old committing suicide after police interrogation? Instead, they are lauding the review of a procedure that should not have been in practice in the first place.

In any developed country, the standard operating procedures (SOPs) would require minors to be accompanied by a parent, guardian or lawyer during interrogation. Its SOPs would also require video recordings of all police interrogations. Without these protections of minors’ rights, indeed the rights of all persons under interrogation, we will never know the treatment meted out to Benjamin during the three hours or so in police custody.

The public is upset over this incident and deserves full accounting from the Government.