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Is Singapore a police state?

by Teo Soh Lung

“Willy Sum” not his real name, is under police investigation. He is alleged to have committed criminal defamation with just one letter to TOC that contained the word “corruption”. He uses this pen name because he does not wish to be mistaken for a foreigner.

For that, the police had ruined his holiday in Taiwan. It was his mom’s 62nd birthday treat. She had scrimped and saved for this trip which costs her nearly $2,000. She was very much looking forward to spending an enjoyable holiday with her only son. But five plain clothes police officers pounced on them. They ambushed and embarrassed them in front of their neighbours as they were waiting for Grab at the void deck to take them to the airport. Humiliated, they were escorted to their flat in full view of their neighbours. They were shocked. Never in their wildest dream did they ever thought that they would be arrested in public.

The police apparently had a court warrant to search and seize properties. They ransacked their flat and took away Willy’s laptop and two mobile phones. Willy was told to report to the Cantonment Police HQ an hour later.

The police claimed that they were from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) which is the premier investigation agency and staff authority for criminal investigation matters within the Singapore Police Force. According to its website, “… CID is in charge of investigating serious crimes and sensitive cases, which include murder, rape, bomb blast incidents, organised crime, syndicated casino crimes, and cybercrime. The department is also in charge of crime suppression and enforcement against vice, secret societies, unlicensed money lending and intellectual property rights violations. …”

How does a letter published in an online news website fall into this category of heinous crimes is simply mind-boggling.

Who is Willy?

Willy is an extraordinary young person. He helps the homeless and the poor. He is good with languages and gets along easily with people. He empathises with the poor and understands their plight. He helps them to resolve problems and misunderstandings with government ministries. He loves writing and writes very well.

Willy is a good listener. He spends hours listening to people pouring out their troubles. He writes about their hardship and problems. He highlights the problems they face, occasionally using online platforms like TOC and Transitioning.org. He writes about their inability to cope with the high cost of living, their joblessness and occasionally their brush with the law. He helps them to communicate with relevant ministries and is simply elated when his letters receive the necessary attention and the status of his “clients” is improved. His “clients” are grateful to him and he is happy. He is a sort of the olden days “petition writers” except that he does that all for free.

Recently, he helped Siti, a mother of three with this article published in Transitioning.org: "Kids taken away from custody of parents by MSF even after negative drug test".

Siti’s children were removed from her custody by the very ministry that was supposed to help her hold her family together. When everything failed and she was pushed to the wall, Willy came to her rescue. Shortly after the publication of Siti’s letter in Transitioning.org, her three children were reunited with her. Thanks to Transitioning.org and Willy.

Willy’s letter highlights the incompetence of the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) the very ministry that is supposed to assist the powerless and the poor. It also touches on the inadequacy of law enforcement agencies and the high-handed manner the police deal with alleged drug offenders. Such harsh and irresponsible behaviour displayed by the police and MSF have the “slow drip of poison” effect (to borrow the words of Mr Edwin Tong) on our society. People internalise fear and lead abnormal lives.

The article above is just one example of what Willy does. He does not care to claim credit for what he did. Indeed, even Transitioning.Org was not aware of what Willy did for their clients.

Why did the Police seize Willy's properties?

On the pretext of investigating the content of just one letter to TOC, I am informed that the police downloaded and printed out more than 50 emails which Willy sent to TOC. Many of these mails were unpublished. They were simply cc copies of letters written to ministries. These mails spread over several years.

I am curious to know if the police are going to delve into all mails that are found in Willy’s laptop. Maybe another 50 letters, published and unpublished will be downloaded and Willy interrogated on these!

The police should cease investigating Willy and Terry Xu of TOC. Nothing in their computers deserve the attention of the CID. I am confident that there are no plans to blow up the Cantonment Police HQ. Honestly, I don’t even understand how the CID can convince our courts to issue warrants of seizure of properties that authorise them to raid the flats of Willy and Terry Xu.

Willy and Terry Xu have wasted many hours at the CID. They have been traumatised and inconvenienced with the seizure of their electronic devices. The police should return all their equipment and devices immediately with an appropriate apology.