SINGAPORE — An application has been filed in the Singapore court by an anti-death penalty activist to seek, among other things, a declaration that the police had abused its powers in investigating him for participating in a purported ‘illegal procession’.
Rocky Howe, a member of the Transformative Justice Collective (TJC) filed the application on 23 September over the police investigations that he and fellow TJC member, and independent journalist Kirsten Han were subjected to on 24 June this year.
The police sought their presence at the Bedok Police Station for allegedly participating in two ‘illegal assemblies’ outside Changi Prison earlier this year: once when they sat there with a few others the night before the execution of Abdul Kahar bin Othman, and another time when they took photos with the sign “END OPPRESSION, NOT LIFE”’ two nights before Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam was hanged.
Both Howe and Han went to the police station wearing T-shirts bearing anti-death penalty slogans.
During the interrogation, police officers took issue with the T-shirts that they were wearing. Specifically, the police officers claimed that by walking from the nearby market to the police station in those T-shirts, they had participated in an ‘illegal procession’.
The T-shirts that they were wearing were then confiscated on the spot. Teo Soh Lung, their friend and fellow activist, who was at the waiting area of the police station had to hastily purchase other T-shirts for them to wear instead.
On top of seizing their mobile phones, the police also asked Han for her social media passwords, which she refused to give them. Han said when she refused, she was warned that Section 39 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) “might come into play”.
Under Section 39 of the CPC, police officers have the power to access, inspect and check the operation of a “computer” used in connection with an arrestable offence.
Following the social media posts published by Teo and Han made about the interrogations on the same day, the local media approached the Police for comments.
In response to media queries, the Police confirmed that AGC, having reviewed the facts, has advised that Han and Howe did not commit any offences, by reason of the T-shirts they wore when they went for the police interview,”
Taking part in a public assembly without a police permit is illegal in Singapore and is an offence under the Public Order Act. First-time offenders can be fined up to $3,000, while repeat offenders face a fine of up to $5,000.
Police Powers Often Go Unchallenged And Unchecked
TJC, a Singapore Non-Government Organisation, said in a statement that police overreach and harassment of activists and critics of the government are longstanding issues in Singapore, noting that it has intensified in recent years, with the expansion of police powers to search and seize, and a growing arsenal of legislation like POFMA (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act) and FICA (Foreign Interference Countermeasures Act) that can be used to police and punish almost any activity or association the government deems a threat.
TJC also point out how police powers often go unchallenged and unchecked. The Internal Affairs Office, which supposedly investigates police misconduct, is not an independent body, lacks accountability, and operates as a department in the Singapore Police Force.
It noted that Rocky’s court application is a necessary act of resistance in an authoritarian regime that thrives on obedience and compliance of the people.
“Such acts of resistance are rare in Singapore. There are less than a handful of cases where ordinary citizens have sued the police force. In taking out this application, Rocky stands in solidarity with the thousands of ordinary people who, under the PAP government, have been intimidated by law enforcement, detained without trial, forced into exile, imprisoned, fined, sued, bankrupted, had their homes raided and their belongings seized, lost their jobs, and who have been publicly shamed and slandered for daring to dream of a more just, compassionate Singapore, and working towards building one.”
Based on the interviews, it has carried out with persons who have experienced heavy-handedness by law enforcement, TJC expressed its fear that assault under custody, arbitrary detentions, threats of harm, and forced confessions may be routinely deployed, not just by the police but by other law enforcement agencies as well.
“It is almost impossible to verify accounts of abusive behaviour by the police and other law enforcement agencies, as they are extremely opaque institutions that only answer citizen or media queries on their own terms,” said TJC in its statement.
“There are no cameras in police interview rooms and the government has refused to install them despite calls from some activists and opposition politicians to do so. Meanwhile, ordinary citizens are constantly surveilled as they go about their lives, by an exponentially growing number of police cameras.”
It further highlights other troubling issues such as the police not allowing lawyers to be present during the interrogation process of the accused or immediate access to one, which the NGO claims is to make it easier for law enforcement authorities to ride roughshod over ordinary citizens’ basic rights.