by Teo Soh Lung
In recent days, several anti-death penalty activists, journalists, filmmakers and friends of the family of the late Mr S Prabagaran were summoned to the Bedok Police Division for the purpose of recording statements relating to a candle light vigil outside Changi Prison. Mr Prabagaran was executed two months ago and the vigil was reported to have taken place at the dawn of his execution.
From the various online reports, it would appear that the gathering was peaceful. However, the police deemed it their duty to interfere. One photograph and several candles were seized. Apparently, they were “humane enough” to let the family pray for Mr S Prabagaran before day-break and did not order the gathering to disperse.
What is there to investigate? Is it wrong for the family of the person to be hanged to pray outside the prison gate? Is it wrong for friends and activists to be with them, supporting them while the gruesome murder took place within the prison walls?
Everywhere along our roads and pavements today, we see people burning joss paper and lighting candles for the spirits of the dead. This is the seventh month of the lunar calendar and the dead are looking for food and financial assistance from their relatives. The management of housing estates provide metal containers for the burning of joss paper. Taoists and Confucionists burn offerings for the underworld late into the night. They line the pavements with candles and food for the spirits. They spend time praying and chatting, sometimes disturbing the peace of the neighbourhood with their voices, smoke and ashes.
Below is a video clip of the bins that can be seen all over the housing estate. The litter has been picked up by the hardworking cleaners.
Did the police bother to stop such gatherings and summon the devotees to the police station?
If anyone deserves investigation, it should be the people who leave candles, joss sticks and food offerings on the pavements and roads. Sometimes they burn the grass patches too. They could be charged for littering our clean and green city. But did we hear of any such investigations? On the contrary, the town councils and management of estates willingly abet the "crime" by providing ugly metal bins for a whole month!
I don't understand the double standards practised by the police, especially the police from the Bedok Police Division.
What is even more deplorable is the manner in which the police abuse their power.
Terry Xu of the Online Citizen was prevented from crossing the causeway on 6 September 2017.
Now Jason Soo, a filmmaker has been informed that he will not be able to leave Singapore for work pending completion of investigation.
When Terry Xu and Jason Soo asked for the provision of the law which gives the police such great power, they were referred to section 112 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
I am sure the police are aware that this section refers to the surrender of travel documents rather than the prevention of potential witnesses or defendants from travelling. And they must also be aware that they have no power to seek the surrender of such travel documents without good reasons and that such power vests with the judiciary not the police. They can request for the travel document but if the owner refuses to give it to them, they have to apply to the courts for an order and be subjected to conditions. Freedom of movement is a fundamental right guaranteed under our Constitution.
So why did the police stop the activists from travelling abroad?
In my opinion, they are just trying their luck. After all, if the immigration police at the causeway or airport refuse to let them through, what can they do? Take the police to court and incur legal costs? You can do that when you have loads of money like our ministers who in any event will never face such problems.
The law as it stands today does not allow the police to stop anyone from travelling abroad while they are being investigated. Unless and until the police apply to the court for such an order and the court grants the order, the person cannot be restrained. It is clear from section 114 of the Criminal Procedure Code that in granting such orders, the police can be subjected to conditions with some financial inconvenience such as compensating the person for loss of job opportunities. That explains why the police have taken the illegal shortcut of stopping the person at immigration checkpoints.
Here is section 114 of the CPC:
—(1) Where a court is satisfied that any person who is acquainted with the subject matter of any investigation carried out under this Code intends to leave Singapore, the court may, having due regard to the circumstances of the person and on the application of the Public Prosecutor, by order require the person to remain in Singapore for such period as the court considers reasonable to facilitate the investigation.
(2) The court may order due provision to be made for the maintenance of such person and for compensating him for his loss of time.
So what can Terry Xu and Jason Soo do?
I suggest that they write to the attorney general to complain about the abuse of power by his subordinates and seek compensation. Under our Constitution, separation of powers is guaranteed. The police in preventing them from travelling abroad usurps the power of the judiciary.