WHO WILL BE THE NEXT VICTIM?

by Teo Soh Lung

This notorious law, POFMA or Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, passed with much wayang in May 2019, has claimed its third victim, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) yesterday.

I hope the party will give the Minister of Manpower Josephine Teo a good fight.

In a matter of three weeks, our million dollar ministers – Heng Swee Keat, K Shanmugam and Josephine Teo have issued a multitude of POFMA correction directions against three parties. These ministers are obviously so bored that they have taken to reading and scrutinising blogs and facebook posts!

Who will be the next victim? And which minister will issue the 4th notice? How many more ministers will issue more notices?

It seems that the ministers are now busy searching for victims! Maybe it is for the purpose of muffling voices before the next general election which is rumoured to be March 2020. Pending criminal defamation cases and civil claims have not drowned all voices.

Who can escape the net and who cannot? This is not for us to decide! Only ministers have the power under POFMA.

Don’t ever think that those who are prosecuted or persecuted today have been careless, lazy or ill informed. Don’t think that only good writers like Bowyer and the SDP qualify as victims.
Victims can be any one!

Does this mean that we should all feel terrified, disheartened and stop writing and commenting on daily incidents and injustices? That would mean POFMA and all those insane laws have succeeded in turning us into docile and compliant citizens who have no rights and no freedom of speech and expression. That would also mean that we have abdicated our duty as citizens in a democratic country.

Shall we wait for celestial intervention? This of course will be the easiest way and it would please the PAP government. Or worse, loudly pray for them to change their ways! Just remember celestial beings if they exist, don’t care about what happens on earth. We can destroy our world and disappear the human race if we choose to.

We have a choice. Do nothing or continue to write and expose injustices, miniscule as it may be when compared to war torn countries and even our neighbours. Many of us like to make such comparisons when they urge critics to be silent and be grateful to the government.

If we don’t want Singapore to join these broken countries, I think we have to continue to speak up. Our audience may be small compared to the PAP. But never forget that tiny drops of water make the mighty ocean. And the roots of a tree can crack the pavement.

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Freedom Film Festival 2019

This year’s festival takes inspiration from the Malaysian phrase “Harga Naik, Gaji Maintain” (“Soaring Prices, Stagnant Wages”). This year’s film lineup aims to spark debate, identify problems and look for alternative solutions to issues of wealth inequality.

We have to choose 13 (out of 35) new and award-winning films from the very best of local, regional and international filmmakers

Screenings at The Projector on Sat 2 and Sun 3 November 2019! For schedules and updates, please go to https://www.facebook.com/freedomfilmfestsg/

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DISENGAGED CIVIL SERVANTS AND POLITICIAN

Function 8 is disappointed with the civil servants in the Ministry of Home Affairs. They do not acknowledge or answer correspondence from citizens. Their feedback unit does not even generate an automatic acknowledgement.

As a public institution serving the citizens of Singapore with an estimated expenditure of nearly $59 million for FY2019 on International & Public Relations, Public Communications, see https://www.singaporebudget.gov.sg/…/do…/pdf/37-MHA-2019.pdf, we find it disturbing and ironic that it cannot employ a single staff to attend to emails from the public.

On 10 July 2019, we wrote to the ministry via email and ordinary mail requesting for information on persons arrested under the ISA and the fate of several Myanmar nationals who were deported. No acknowledgement or response was received.

On 5 August 2019, we wrote to Minister K Shanmugam via email and post on our queries, sending him copies of our letters. Again there was no acknowledgement or response.

On 27 August 2019, we sent a reminder to the minister. Till today, we have not received an acknowledgement or response.

The conduct of the minister and the civil servants of his ministry leaves much to be desired.

What can we, as citizens of Singapore do to make our ministers and civil servants accountable to us? Are they beyond reproach? Is the simple act of engaging ordinary citizens now beyond their responsibility and below their dignity?70891316_1303878809789090_7260065820686942208_n.jpg70580888_1303879069789064_5463342299096285184_n70257346_1303871906456447_3482489968998219776_n.jpg70888974_1303878559789115_7181804756275298304_n

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Event: Changing Worlds #25

Function 8 is pleased to invite you to the 25th edition of our talks and discussions on

CHANGING WORLDS

The Singapura from the Malay Annals — Historical Memories in Challenge

by Dr Azhar Ibrahim

Date : 8 – 10 pm, Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Venue : 28 Sin Ming Lane #03-142 Midview City

The Agora, Singapore 573972

Please RSVP at Hello@function8.org by 18 August.

This talk aims to highlight and discuss the Singapura episodes in Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annal ), deemed one of the finest Malay literary‐historical texts on record. It has been one of the contested sites where historical assertions and claims have been made amongst the Malay literati, which associated Singapura’s past with Malay indigeneity and position. This is especially significant as the contemporary dominant narratives of Singapore’s history put hardly any premium or recognition to the Sejarah Melayu’s version of historical past or memories. Today, with the increasing emphasis of Singapore’s history on one that predates the 1819 establishment, Sejarah Melayu is a significant source, albeit one of many, which will help historians review and construct a more accurate past. How and to what extent this could be accomplished will be an interesting subject for discussion and evaluation in reassessing Singapore’s pre‐colonial history.

Our speaker: Dr Azhar Ibrahim, PhD is a lecturer at the Department of Malay Studies, National University of Singapore (NUS). He teaches Malay‐Indonesian literature and ideologies of development at the Department. His research interest includes sociology of religion, sociology of literature and critical literacy, and the MalayIndonesian intellectual development. Amongst his published books are: Emancipated Education (2019), Historical Imagination and Cultural Responses to Colonialism and Nationalism: A Critical Malay(sian) Perspective (2017), Menyanggah Belenggu Kerancuan Fikiran Masakini (2016), Contemporary Islamic Discourse in the Malay‐Indonesia World: Critical Perspectives (2014), and Narrating Presence: Awakening from Cultural Amnesia (2014).

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SECRECY SURROUNDING ISA DETAINEES

by Teo Soh Lung (posted on Facebook 27 June 2019)

There is an air of secrecy surrounding the arrest and detention of people under Singapore’s Internal Security Act (ISA). They disappear suddenly from our midst. Except for family members and close friends, the rest of Singapore do not have a clue that they have been arrested and put away indefinitely without trial. We don’t know where they are being imprisoned. The mainstream media do not report their disappearances unless they are informed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, usually several months or years after they are arrested/detained or released.

Take the ministry’s recent press release of 25 June 2019. https://www.mha.gov.sg/…/update-on-actions-taken-under-the-…

The press release informs us that one person, Imran bin Mahmood was issued with a detention order in January 2019. We are now almost at the end of June 2019. Why does the ministry take six months to inform the public of the arrest? If it is a national security issue, shouldn’t the public be alerted immediately?

Indefinite detention or imprisonment without trial is better known as executive detention. The minister for home affairs is largely responsible for such arrests and imprisonment. In the case of Imran bin Mahmood the alleged facts are rather vague. The press release states:

“2. Imran bin Mahmood (Imran), a 40-year-old unemployed Singaporean, was detained in January 2019 under the ISA after investigations showed that he was radicalised and harboured the intention to travel to Syria to join the terrorist group ISIS.

3. Imran’s radicalisation began sometime in 2013 when he started listening to online lectures by foreign religious preachers, including those who preached about the imminent coming of the end-times. Through his exposure to the radical online material, Imran became a strong supporter of ISIS’s violent objectives and actions. By 2014, Imran had developed a desire to live under ISIS’s so-called caliphate in Syria/Iraq and researched on viable entry points for himself into Syria. He was willing to take up arms to defend or expand ISIS’s territory, and believed that he would achieve martyrdom if he died fighting for ISIS.

4. Imran questioned ISIS’s legitimacy when it started to suffer territorial losses in 2017, but did not denounce ISIS. He continued to believe that it was his religious duty to fight alongside any group trying to establish a rightful caliphate in Syria, and that his radical views were legitimate. He was also prepared to join militant and terrorist groups involved in the Syrian conflict, namely the Free Syrian Army and Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (an Al-Qaeda aligned faction).”

I don’t know how much sense can be made out of these statements. What is crucial to me is that no weapons or subversive documents are mentioned to have been in the possession of Imran. He had spent time listening to online lectures about the imminent end of the world by religious preachers, something which some of us would also have done at some point of time in our lives! But the minister had pre-empted his plans (if any) and arrested him despite the fact that he had experienced doubts in 2017. Can he be wrong in his judgement?

In the press release, two persons were released on restriction orders, probably in March 2019. Again, shouldn’t the public be notified of their arrests and releases immediately since it involves national security? Or are we expected to trust the authority that it will do no wrong?

Finally, the press release disclosed that four persons who were arrested in February 2012, March 2013 and May 2017 were released probably in March and June 2019. (The press release is not clear on the dates). These are long detentions. Two of the released prisoners had been detained for six and seven years respectively while the other two for about two years. During the entire period of their detentions, the public do not have any information about them. Shouldn’t there be accountability since they were allegedly arrested and imprisoned for public security reasons?

On what evidence do the minister rely on before he detains a person? “Nipped in the bud” has always been the guideline for those who exercised such power. That was the case in 1987 and all the arrests prior to and after that year. In fact, it had been used since the days when Singapore was under the British.

Singapore has now been an independent country for more than half a century. She has become a developed country. Should we continue to punish our people using draconian colonial laws? Indefinite detention without trial should not be the law of any country especially one that claims to abide by the rule of law. All persons are entitled to fair and open trials as guaranteed by our Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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QUESTIONING GOVERNMENT’S POLICIES

by Teo Soh Lung (posted on Facebook 26 June 2019)

I find it sad that people should ask me for a solution when I criticise policies of our government. I am told to shut up when I don’t have any idea (that’s what they presume) of how our government can rectify its bad policies.

Such behaviour to me is confirmation that we have disempowered people in our midst. They are dependent on our government and believe that whatever it does is good for us.

Are we animals and chickens which though able to think and feel pain, are contented to be fed until they are sent to the slaughter? We cannot even say that we are farm animals and fowl because when we have no money, our government does not owe us a duty to feed us. It is our families that will try to help us. So why cannot we criticise our government?

Take the case of heavier penalties or fines for drivers reported in the TODAY paper of 26 June 2019. See https://www.facebook.com/sohlung.teo/posts/10217547154964578

To this report, I had remarked: “PAP government only knows one deterrence i.e. severer sentences being fines, jail terms, number of strokes or death.

In parking offences, it doesn’t take into considerations its own inefficiency or deficiency in providing parking lots or the inequality of treatment such as the privileges of ministers in parking anywhere they wish.”

Robert Wee shot back: “As u are against use financial penalty as a means to engender better civic behaviour what is your proposed prescription? Cheers”

Robert Wee may be a fake account but I will answer his question which is pretty common. Such questions were raised when JB Jeyaretnam was the single opposition in parliament back in the early 1980s. Lots of people unkindly criticised him for failing to provide solutions but merely raising questions in parliament. They even accused him of not doing any research. They forget that he was just one opposition against a pack of PAP barking dogs.

My answer to this Robert Wee and his likes is simply this.

I am a citizen of Singapore and I am entitled to comment, criticise and protest against a policy which I see is bad for my country. Unfortunately, I am not able to stand in front of parliament house with a placard in my hands without being sent to jail. So I do my best and make use of facebook to voice my dissent.

Must I have a solution to all the follies of the PAP?

Surely not. I am not a minister in the PAP government. I am not paid a million dollars. I am not entitled to facts and figures. (Even journalists who don’t work for The Straits Times, are not entitled to information.) So why should this Robert Wee expect me to find a “prescription” for the policy to tax drivers even more severely than now?

As a citizen, I am surely entitled to criticise the government for a policy which I see is senseless and selfish. Heavier fines will only enrich the government. It will not prevent drivers who occasionally break rules.

Just look at the ugly gantries that swallow millions of dollars from car owners. Never mind that it uglifies our beautiful city as long as it enriches the government. Did the gantries solve some of the congestion problems in the city? Perhaps. But what happens next?

More gantries are built. Even when you drive from east to west, away from the city, you are caught by at least one gantry. Why? The government just wants more money! The easiest way to make money is to build gantries. The original intention of discouraging people driving into the city is thrown to the winds.

It was the same with COEs. High COEs will deter car ownership? It did for a while. But there are too many rich people in Singapore who can pay more than one COE. Yes, the government struck gold there. It was an easy way to make a lot of money. Collect 2/3 of the price of vehicles as tax for a ten year lease of a vehicle. In addition collect petrol tax, parking tax etc etc. The opportunities seem endless!

Coming back to the issue of heavier penalties for drivers from July 2019. I find it disturbing that instead of understanding why drivers park badly, the government does not look into its own deficiencies. Why would anyone want to park illegally if they can find a proper parking lot. True there are inconsiderate drivers along some roads but that is partly because the government, in order to collect more money have drawn parking lots when it should not have. I am thinking of East Coast Road where congestions is largely due to cars being parked along one lane of the road, whether legally or illegally.

It is said that the minister will also increase the penalties for overparking. He obviously forgets that the parking apps will not refund drivers any money for less than 10 minutes. Try ending parking when you have 10 minutes left. If the government eats up 10 minutes from drivers, what is so bad about giving some drivers an extra 10 minutes? And mind you, the CISCO officer will give you a warning even though you have less than 10 minutes to return to your car. When you write to the department to enquire why the notice was issued, you are pushed from CISCO to department and a standard explanation is received which does not answer your objection. And so you give up.

Robert Wee should understand that as citizens we still have some rights, though not much left. We may not have an answer to every issue that we raise but we still have the right to raise it. For this particular issue of increasing penalties, I have lots to say but I can do that another day.

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Book review: Beyond Suspicion? The Singapore Judiciary

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Francis Seow’s meticulous and skilful narration of facts and events introduces the reader to the unique political climate in Singapore. Who would have thought that discussions and questions concerning the sale of several luxurious apartments to politicians and well-known individuals, including Supreme Court judges would result in 13 lawsuits being served on a single Singapore citizen, Tang Liang Hong.

Seow’s detailed and eloquent description of how hard senior lawyers worked for their clients, the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Senior Minister and several cabinet ministers against Tang Liang Hong, his lawyer, J B Jeyaretnam and his wife, Teo Siew Har is disturbing. It was spine chilling to read how at the unearthly hour of midnight, lawyers and inland revenue officials served summonses on Teo Siew Har at her residence after her forced return to Singapore by the immigration authority at the Johor-Singapore causeway.

The participation and non participation of lawyers in the lawsuits against Tang Liang Hong, J B Jeyaretnam and Teo Siew Har culminating in the bankruptcy of all three (J B Jeyaretnam was bankrupted by a litigant in an unconnected lawsuit) should prick the conscience of lawyers and judges. The manner in which court officials and Supreme Court judges handled the plethora of lawsuits against the three give much food for thought.

Never before has a book that gives such deep insights into the workings of the Singapore courts been published. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand Singapore and Singaporeans.

Francis Seow joined the Singapore Legal Service in 1956 and was Solicitor-General from 1966 to 1972.

Teo Soh Lung
Singapore
30 October 2007

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