Mother and relative grieving over the impending execution of Prabagaran Srivijayan on 13 July.

Skipping legal procedures, are police acting as judges?

So today as I was going across the Woodlands Checkpoint, my passport for the first time in my life, failed to be processed and the immigration officer had to bring me to the office at the sixth floor.

At the office, I spoke with Jason Tan – the inspector who had sent letters to all those who were present at the 13 July vigil for Prabagaran Srivijayan who was to be executed on the morning of 14 July – via phone and he asked if I wanted to leave the country.

I said, “Yes, just for a few hours.” He then said sorry and stated that I cannot leave the country because I have yet complete my interview with the police.

So in the letter that was sent two months after the event has taken place, it stated that an investigation is being conducted into an offence of Taking Part in a Public Assembly without a Permit under Section 16(2)(a) of the Public Order Act, Chapter 257A and that I “may be acquainted with the facts and circumstances of the case”.

The letter also states that the officer had invoked the powers bestowed upon him via the virtue of Section 21(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code to compel me to turn up at the station and I read the section in full,

Power to require attendance of witnesses
21(1) In conducting an investigation under this Part, a police officer may issue a written order requiring anyone within the limits of Singapore, who appears to be acquainted with any of the facts and circumstances of the case, to attend before him, and that person must attend as required.”

Nowhere in the letter did it state that I was not allowed to leave the country and I have already scheduled an interview with the officer at 11am on Thursday.

When the officer was asked what law or regulation am I being prevented from leaving the country, he said that I will only be allowed to leave after I have taken my statement. And he can take my statement today and then I can travel.

It is only after insisting that he explain the reason why I am prevented from leaving even for a few hours, that he revealed I am being investigated for taking part in an illegal public assembly – An “illegal public assembly” to grieve over an individual who was put to death under the state law, and insisted that he is innocent till the point he was hanged at the gallows. It was also an “illegal public assembly” where the Police officers turned up at the scene who requested the candles for the vigil to be removed but said it was ok to gather so long there is no candles placed.

So I took up the offer and asked him to come over to the immigration checkpoint for my statement to be taken. However, after checking with someone, he requested me to go over to Bedok Police Station to be interviewed when I am at Woodlands Checkpoint.

I then asked if it is certain that I can travel once I have my statement taken, he replied it will still be up to the Police to decide whether or not I can travel after the statement has been taken. I eventually choose to attend the interview on Thursday and leave the checkpoint as it was clear that the intended interview is not a simple question and answer matter.

So the thing is here, even if I am being investigated for an “illegal public assembly” which the Police said it was ok at the time they turned up, what powers does the Police possess to restrict my travel without any specific mention in the law? If travel restriction is being imposed, why is it not indicated anywhere in the letter to me?

I understand that the travel restriction is being extended to all those whom the Police is investigating. A few of us have important travel arrangements within the month but are being told that it will be determined by the Police whether they can be allowed to travel.

Following my Facebook post, Kirsten Han who was also one of the individuals present at the vigil and summoned to be interviewed by the Police wrote,

According to the investigating officer, an offence under the Public Order Act is an arrestable offence. However, they have chosen not to arrest us (yet; he naturally couldn’t rule out this possibility), but “we have decided you all will not be allowed to leave [the] state.” He pointed out that if we had been arrested, we would be allowed bail, and the bail conditions would not allow us to leave the country.I asked him, “So we’ve not been arrested, but we are still under the bail conditions?” He said yes.

(He also said that they will “make assessment” after we’ve given our statements, and confirmed that this means there’s a chance we still won’t be allowed to leave Singapore even after being questioned.)

Also today, after being chased for an answer by one of the individuals being investigated, Officer Tan’s superior Justin Ong said that the Police could have arrested those present at the scene and confiscated our passports but choose not to do so. He stated that the period of investigation is till our first interview and after that, they will make another assessment. When asked which procedure or law gives the Police the right to do this, Ong referred to Criminal Procedure Code Chapter 68, Section 112.

Surrender of travel document
112.—(1) Notwithstanding any other written law —
(a) a police officer of or above the rank of sergeant, with the written consent of an authorised officer;
(b) the head or director of any other law enforcement agency or a person of a similar rank; or
(c) any officer of a prescribed law enforcement agency, with the written consent of the head or director of that law enforcement agency or a person of a similar rank,
may require a person whom he has reasonable grounds for believing has committed any offence to surrender his travel document.
(2) Any person who fails to surrender his travel document as required under subsection (1) may be arrested and taken before a Magistrate.
(3) If the person arrested and taken before the Magistrate under subsection (2) is unable to show good reasons for not surrendering his travel document, the Magistrate may commit him to prison until he surrenders his travel document.
(4) For the purposes of subsection (3), a certificate signed by an authorised officer, or the head or director of any law enforcement agency or a person of a similar rank, or the head or director of any prescribed law enforcement agency or a person of a similar rank, as the case may be, to the effect that the prisoner has complied with the requirements to surrender his travel document is sufficient warrant for the Commissioner of Prisons to release the prisoner.
(5) In this section and section 113 —
“authorised officer” means a police officer of or above the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police who is authorised by the Commissioner of Police to give a written consent referred to in subsection (1)(a);
“prescribed law enforcement agency” means a law enforcement agency prescribed for the purposes of subsection (1)(c) by the Minister charged with the responsibility for that law enforcement agency.

Ong’s justification by the use of Section 112 is troubling. Because while the Police possesses the power to compel those investigated to surrender their travel documents, the Police choose not ask the individuals to surrender the documents under the legal procedure but choose to exercise the powers granted to them under the law to impose the travel restriction.

The implication with this undue process is that if the Police were to exercise their right under Section 112 of CPC, the affected could seek redress under Section 113 and Section 114 of the same act by applying to a District Judge for the return of the travel document, stating the reasons for the application. And if the individual is required to remain in Singapore for such period as the court considers reasonable to facilitate the investigation, the court may order due provision to be made for the maintenance of such person and for compensating the person for his or her loss of time.

But if the Police choose to exercise the powers granted to them under Section 112 without going through the due process, there is simply no legal avenues for the person to seek redress or to seek compensation due to the travel restriction.

So in this instance, are the Police acting as judge to decide whether or not one can leave the country without putting the matter to court?