Can’t our Youth Court handle young offenders?

Can’t our Youth Court handle young offenders?

by Teo Soh Lung

In the 21 February 2023 press release of the Ministry of Home Affairs, it was announced that a 15 year old boy was detained since December 2022 and another boy aged 16 was released with restriction orders in January 2023.

The statement went on to describe the self- radicalisation process of the two boys. It alleged that the 15 year old had a “desire to conduct attacks in Singapore”.

It went on to allege in paragraph 8:

“Steeped in the belief that “disbelievers” should be killed, in late 2022, the youth had considered conducting knife attacks to behead non-Muslims in popular tourist areas in Singapore. Apart from knife attacks, he also thought about being a suicide bomber, and fantasised about exploding himself. He said that these thoughts were inspired by ISIS’s beheading and suicide bombing videos, which he frequently viewed online. At the point of his arrest, the youth was deeply entrenched in his radical views, but had yet to undertake any steps towards actualising his attack ideations.”

These are serious allegations against the boy.

With regard to the 16 year old youth, the statement in paragraphs 12 and 13 alleged:

“12. The youth joined multiple ISIS-themed servers on online gaming platform Roblox, where the virtual game settings replicated physical ISIS conflict zones, such as those in Syria and Marawi city in southern Philippines. The youth regarded himself as an ISIS member in these games, and had taken the bai’ah to an in-game ‘ISIS leader’. The youth was proud of his roles as the “spokesperson” and “chief propagandist” for his in-game ISIS faction. He said his actions in support of ISIS in Roblox, such as shooting and killing ISIS’s “enemies”, were intended to mimic his desire to be an ISIS member in real life.
13. The youth propagated his support for ISIS by creating and uploading three ISIS propaganda videos onto social media between late 2021 and early 2022. Using his Roblox game footage which showed the virtual ISIS factions conducting attacks, the youth added ISIS nasheeds and superimposed images of an ISIS flag to create the propaganda videos (see Annex).”

Reading the allegations against the two boys, I am reminded of my own detention and the false allegations made against me, that I had intended to overthrow the PAP government using “communist united front tactics” and that I had infiltrated into the Workers’ Party and the Law Society of Singapore.

The public may be taken in by the allegations made against the two boys but I would caution that under the Internal Security Act (ISA), a person arrested may not even know the reasons for his arrest. The security police had the power to detain him for 30 days and subject him to strenuous interrogations.

We do not know what happened to the two boys during those 30 days – whether they were physically or mentally tortured, whether they suffered sleep deprivation, placed in cold rooms with spotlights, threatened with indefinite detention, made to write false confessions or placed in solitary confinement in tiny, dirty prison cells. Throughout the 30 days, they may be deprived of visits from families and lawyers.

Thirty days of solitary confinement is a very long time.

It has been proven that even adults can succumb to making false confessions which may result in great harm to themselves and others but fulfil the objectives of interrogators, the government and the Internal Security Department (ISD).

Remember the case of Benjamin Lim, the 14-year-old boy who committed suicide when he was interrogated by police officers over an alleged molestation case? What happened to the resolve of the police that they will treat young alleged offenders kindly and that their counsellors or teachers will be present during police interviews?

Unlike other ASEAN countries, Singapore does not have a Human Rights Commission to oversee any human rights abuses. Till today, the public has never been told how police officers treat young alleged “terrorist suspects” under the ISA.

Were they placed in police lockups or kept within the Changi Prison Complex? What were their cell conditions like? They have not been tried and convicted. They cannot be treated like ordinary prisoners.

The ISD can assure us that they have effective rehabilitation programmes which are assisted by religious, psychological and social personnel. They can assure us that the Religious Rehabilitation Group and Inter-Agency Aftercare Group can rehabilitate the boys.

But they never tell us what kind of interrogation techniques are applied on these alleged young offenders.

The Ministry of Home Affairs tells us that since 2015, the ISD has dealt with 11 self-radicalised Singaporean youths aged 20 or below under the ISA. We do not know how many of these young people are below the ages of 18 and 16 years.

Couldn’t these young people be dealt with under the Children and Young Persons Act which prohibits young offenders from being sent to prison and hearings are closed to the public? Is our Youth Court not capable of handling the 15-year-old alleged offender?

I am very sure that our Youth Court has even better resources and personnel than the ISD and its volunteer groups. Why is there a necessity to look at self-radicalisation as a special type of offence that only the ISA can handle?

I am troubled that ever since 9/11, the Singapore government have been using the ISA against alleged religious extremists. It has time and again justified arrests under the ISA as anti-terrorism measures. It has chosen to ignore the purpose of the ISA which is to combat organised violence against persons and property by a substantial body of persons.

The original aim of the ISA was to combat alleged communists. Over the decades, the government had widened its scope to include unarmed political opponents. Today alleged religious extremists are under its radar. In the case of the two young persons, the ISD admitted that they had acted on their own and that they had allegedly been self-radicalised by online terrorist propaganda.

Can an individual qualify as a “substantial body of persons” intending to “cause a substantial number of citizens to fear organised violence against the persons and property” as set out in the preamble of the Act?

There is no state of emergency in Singapore today or in the decades that have gone by. We have been welcoming tourists, and they are still coming to our shores. Why do we need to instil fear in our society with the frequent use of the ISA?

Why cannot our ordinary laws and courts handle all these alleged religious terrorists? Why use this draconian law to terrorise us?

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