Last week (4 February), Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will extend consular assistance to Singaporeans detained or arrested abroad, and help ensure that they are accorded due process under the local laws.
When asked by Worker’s Party MP Leon Perera whether the MFA will extend consular request to every request made to the ministry from a next of kin or from the detained person itself, if it is permitted by local authorities and does not contravene local laws, Dr Balakrishnan answered in the affirmative.
But is that truly the case?
Mr Mohan Rajangam, who was arrested by the Singapore Police Force and subsequently extradited to Malaysia on March 2015 over a charge made against him for a murder that took place in Penang Island, said in a follow-up interview with TOC that Dr Balakrishnan’s statement does not tally with his personal experience at all.
Following Dr Balakrishnan’s statement in Parliament, Mr Mohan responded that the MFA did not exactly do much at all to help him or his family at all while he was detained in Penang for four month.
He explained that his cousin had to get in touch with MFA via email and they said that they would check with Malaysian authorities before getting back to the family to tell them what can be done.
However, when MFA got back to the family, the ministry merely gave them the name and contact number of the officer in charge in Penang. The family would have to obtain permission from the officer themselves if they wanted to to visit Mr Mohan.
He told TOC, “And after that, there is no help from them”.
Mr Mohan told us that MFA did not visit him even once during the four months that he was detained, nor was there any other sort of help extended by the ministry to either Mr Mohan or his family during this difficult time.
Mr Mohan explained that he had asked the officer in charge of his case that he wanted to speak to someone at the Singapore consulate. Unfortunately, the officer told him that they would know what to do if they wanted to visit him, adding that the local authorities cannot do anything about it.
“For the past four months I was waiting day by day, if they will come,” lamented Mr Mohan.
“If they come and visited me earlier, I think I won’t be suffering there for four months. And they will know what is happening. They did not come and visit,” he added, noting that he even had to find his own way back to Singapore after he was released.
When Mr Mohan tried to leave Malaysia, he was told that he had overstayed for four months—those months that he was detained with no help from the MFA. He then had to go back to the investigation officer who gave him a letter to explain his situation.
Mr Mohan then had to also pay a fine of S$100 and buy another ticket to get back to Singapore.
He questioned MFA’s handling of the case, noting that since they sent him to Malaysia in the first place via the proper channels, why couldn’t they also do the same to get him home?
Again, he pointed out that if the MFA had visited him, they would be aware of his release and could have provided some assistance. After all, his identity card and passport were seized when he was detained.
Earlier, Mr Mohan has told TOC that when he was finally released from lock-up in Penang, the local authorities forgot to return his passport. Only when he asked did they take him to see the investigating officer who then gave him back his passport and only a copy of his identity card.
Mr Mohan also raised the point of MFA not keeping his family appraised or updated about what was happening with Mr Mohan. He said that they had to go to a neighbourhood police post to find out more detail. The family was also shocked to hear via Mr Mohan’s cousin that he was facing murder charges.
“Our Singapore police force should inform my family. And I told the officer, please inform my family,” he said.
He added that Singapore authorities had told him they knew what they were doing just before they handed him over to Malaysian authorities at the Woodland’s checkpoint. But Mr Mohan questioned if that was true, again pointing to the fact that his family was kept in the dark by MFA and the SPF.
He said he heard all of these stories from his family after he got back. They told him that no one informed them of what was happening.
This seems to contradict what Dr Balakrishnan said in Parliament last week.