by Teo Soh Lung
Three members of Function 8 were harassed by several plain clothes and uniformed police personnel from Cantonment Police Division soon after witnessing the arrest of Mr Seelan Palay by at least 12 police officers. The incident took place outside Parliament House yesterday afternoon (Sunday 1 Oct 2017).
Standing outside Parliament House, Mr Seelan Palay holding a mirror, performed “32 Years: The Interrogation of a Mirror”. It was a powerful performance, daring, philosophical and poetic.
When two uniformed police officers approached him, he was overheard explaining to them that he was standing there because Dr Chia Thye Poh who was a parliamentarian was arrested and imprisoned without trial for 32 years. The young officer was not aware of who Dr Chia is and Mr Seelan Palay politely advised him to look up Wikipedia.
He was next asked if he was related to Dr Chia. Mr Seelan Palay replied that if a person falls to the ground, do you ask if he is related to you before you help him up?
Mr Seelan Palay went on to say that if a parliamentarian like Dr Chia could be arrested and imprisoned for 32 years, then who should be charged? And because Dr Chia was a parliamentarian, Parliament House was the right place for him to present his performance art and demand an answer as to why Dr Chia was imprisoned for 32 years. Incidentally, Mr Seelan Palay is 32 years old and the fact that Dr Chia was imprisoned for this length of time bothered him since he was ten years old.
Mr Seelan Palay did not argue with the police officers. He stood silently outside Parliament House holding his mirror and answering questions of the police officers when asked. Passers-by walked past him without taking any notice of him.
After a long time and presumably many telephone calls to higher ranking officers, one police vehicle arrived and parked in the compound of Parliament House. Mr Seelan Palay was then handcuffed and led to the police vehicle. He was seen entering the back seat.
Later, another police vehicle arrived and three plain clothes officers alighted. After something like 45 minutes and about 12 officers in attendance, Mr Seelan Palay was driven away.
We walked away gloomily, pondering what Singapore has become. When one person standing in front of Parliament House on a rainy Sunday afternoon can be arrested by 12 police officers, what and where is our future? Our thoughts were abruptly interrupted by several police officers who ran after us. They wanted our identity cards. We refused to oblige because we didn't commit any crime.
We asked which law permitted them to demand production of our identity cards. They said we witnessed the commission of an offence and we may be called as witnesses. What offence we asked. One of them said it was the Public Order Act. As to which law authorised them to demand our personal particulars, they cited section 16(1)(b) of the National Registration Act.
At first glance, the section seemed to authorise police officers to harass every law abiding person in Singapore. Section 16(1) states:
(1) Where any person —
(a) is reasonably suspected by a registration officer or police officer of the commission of any offence under this Act or any regulations made thereunder; or
(b) on demand by a registration officer or a police officer —
(i) does not give his name and address;
(ii) gives a name or address which the officer has reason to believe is false; or
(iii) gives as his address a place outside Singapore,
that person may be arrested without warrant by the registration officer or police officer.
The police officers threatened us with immediate arrests if we did not comply with their requests. Rather than argue with them and being bundled into police vehicles like Mr Seelan Palay, we gave our names and identity card numbers. Keying our particulars into an electronic device which probably contain the registration particulars of all Singaporeans, they were satisfied that we did not lie.
As we were about to leave, one of the officers offered us the option of giving a statement there and then or be invited to the police station at a subsequent date. We were assured that it would not take more than 15 minutes. The offer was tempting but we were not sure that we would be let off in 15 minutes. We have better things to do than to stand by the road-side giving a statement till midnight. And so we left.
The police have abused their power with their threats of immediate arrests should we refuse to give our personal particulars. The National Registration Act does not permit them to demand disclosure of personal particulars when we could just be potential witnesses to an alleged crime.
The Act, as the title implies, is restricted to offences that concern “the issue of identity cards and purposes connected therewith”. (see also preamble to the Act). An alleged offence under the Public Order Act has nothing to do with the “issue of identity cards or purposes connected therewith”. And our being potential witnesses certainly does not qualify as an identity card issue.
The police officers also cited the Criminal Procedure Code without mentioning the particular section. They probably had in mind section 65 of the Code which authorise them to demand the personal particulars of a person who has committed or is committing an offence.
None of us had committed any offence. As responsible members of the public, we wanted to ensure that Mr Seelan Palay was not ill treated by 12 police officers. We watched the arrest from a distance. We did not interfere in any way. We did not even step into the compound of Parliament House.
What we witnessed and experienced yesterday confirm beyond a doubt that Singapore is a police state and state terrorism is rampant. Freedom of assembly, speech and expression are merely empty promises of the government. When police officers threaten arrests for everything and believe that they have such power, where is the rule of law that our government and judges keep boasting to the world?
Unless and until citizens demand the return of rights that we have lost, we will see more arrests and harassment by the very people who are supposed to protect us.