CAN: Statement on the Law Minister’s speech about the death of Benjamin Lim

The below is a statement written by the Community Action Network (CAN) in regards to the speech made by the Minister of Law and Home Affairs, Mr K Shanmugam in Parliament on Tuesday.

In Parliament yesterday, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam spoke at length about the untimely death of 14-year-old Benjamin Lim. During his speech, Mr Shanmugam made repeated allegations that sociopolitical website, The Online Citizen was deliberately inaccurate in its reporting on the case. He accused TOC of organising “a planned, orchestrated campaign using falsehoods”. Mr Shanmugam also expressed surprise at “false” statements made by Law Society President, Mr Thio Shen Yi.

Given the many questions surrounding Benjamin’s apparent suicide, Singaporeans are naturally concerned. We want to know if police followed proper procedure in the handling of a minor. We find it worthwhile to question if things could have been done differently, and if current procedures can be improved.

Benjamin’s case involves pressing questions demanding urgent answers – his parents deserve closure, and Singaporeans need to be reassured that children who are called to assist police in investigations are properly treated. It is a matter of public interest.

The Minister’s focus on TOC and Mr Thio are therefore distracting and unnecessary. TOC has since clarified that it had reached out to the police, and various other ministries for comment. It is understood that no replies were forthcoming. During his speech, Mr Shanmugam accused TOC of using “tactics” to solicit comments from the police. This is a bizarre claim.  Should TOC have refrained from trying to ascertain facts?

Mr Shanmugam also cautioned against commenting on the case as a Coroner’s Inquiry is underway. However, we believe a distinction should be drawn between legitimate questions asked in good faith, and discussion aimed at influencing the outcome of the Coroner’s findings. Moreover, we understand the Coroner to be a highly qualified professional, fully capable of carrying out his work without being swayed.

Finally, we note the Minister’s assessment of Benjamin’s alleged offense. We appreciate the careful thought that went into the decision to make public information obtained from CCTV footage. Mr Shanmugam opined that Benjamin would have been let off with a warning. This indicates a presumption of guilt. Given that the boy is dead and will not be able to defend himself in a trial, and in view of the principle that all suspects should be granted the right to be treated as innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, we urge the Minister to refrain from making such pronouncements in the future.

[Endorsees: Shelley Thio, Roy Ngerng, Jennifer Teo, Woon Tien Wei, Rachel Zeng, Lynn Lee, and Jolovan Wham from Community Action Network]

The Community Action Network is a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) based in Singapore concerned about freedom of expression, and civil and political rights.