Lawful Lawlessness or Legal Opportunism

cantonment-police-complexby Teo Soh Lung

Singapore is unique in many things, including lawlessness committed by the very people who are supposed to ensure public safety and security.

It is now 257 days since the police seized my mobile phone and computers. I do not know what pleasure they gain from retaining my properties.

Seizing properties from citizens is quite a recent phenomenon. The law allowing the police to seize properties under certain circumstances was sneaked into the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) when the old code was repealed and the new CPC incorporating major amendments was introduced in parliament in 2010.

Rather innocuously, Minister for Law K Shanmugam said of the power of the police to seize properties:

“Clause 35 [presently section 34] of the Bill builds upon the existing powers of the Police to seize property under certain circumstances, by expanding the powers to three specific classes of property:

(1) Property in respect of which an offence is suspected to have been committed;

(2) Property suspected to have been used or intended to be used to commit an offence – for example, dangerous weapons used to commit gang robbery, and

(3) property suspected to constitute evidence of an offence, for example, bits of clothing found at a crime scene.

Property falling within the first and second classes will include not only the original property, but also any property that it has been converted into. So, for example, if a suspected watch thief has sold the stolen watch and used the proceeds to buy a computer, the Police may seize the computer instead.”

I suspect no one in the house anticipated the powers of the police to be expanded to what the police do today. They were probably misled by the opening statement of the minister that the clause “builds upon the existing powers of the Police to seize property …” The clause widens the power of the police to an extent which I will term as “lawful lawlessness”. I do not think anyone in the house anticipated computers and mobile phones of law abiding people to be seized by the police. No member of the house objected or even sought clarification of the new clause. I suspect only the minister knew what he was going to do with the new power.

It was also in 2010 that the phrase “arrestable offence” replaced “seizable offence” in the definition section of the Code.

lianain-filmsThe new law came into effect on 2 Jan 2011. Two years later, we saw the use or rather abuse of this law on its first victim, Lynn Lee, a filmmaker and then on Leslie Chew, a cartoonist.

The police went knocking on the door of Lynn Lee one morning, pretending to seek information from her about allegations of intimidation and assault on two bus drivers. In her blog, http://www.lianainfilms.com/…/in-which-lim-makes-me-kopi-a…/ she gave an account of how she was harassed in the early hours of the morning in Feb 2013 and then at the police headquarters at Irrawaddy Road. The police did not seize her computers and mobile phone then but clearly, the hard disks were cloned in her presence and her computers damaged beyond repair. She was detained for more than nine hours without dinner and would not have been released had it not been for her friends who gathered outside the gate of the police headquarters after 10 pm.

Two months later, Leslie Chew was the next victim. He was given worse treatment including a taste of the police lockup at the notorious Police Cantonment Complex for nearly 48 hours, the maximum period the police are allowed to detain a person without a charge. He had just returned from abroad and they could not wait arrest and seize his computers the minute he arrived at his parents’ home. They seized his computers and threw him into the police lockup at midnight. They could not wait for daylight because they wanted to give him the maximum shock effect.

Leslie Chew was never charged in court though they tortured him by allowing him to be on a $10,000 bail bond and having to report on weekly and then monthly basis for god knows how long. It took the police several months before his properties were returned.

I do not know how many people have been subjected to the treatment meted out to Lynn Lee and Leslie Chew. In May 2016 however, the police came for Roy Ngerng and me. We learnt from journalists that the police were investigating us for Cooling Off Day offences. At 9.30 pm the next night, a letter from the police was slipped under my door. I was invited for an interview at the Police Cantonment Complex. The next morning, a Sunday, the police was again at my door just to make sure that I received the letter.

Roy and I were interrogated by the police on 31 May 2016. Following that, we were driven home and our mobile phones and computers etc were seized even though we have never denied the allegations made against us i.e. that we posted on our personal facebooks, opinions and news, both old and new on Cooling Off Day. Our defence was that it was our constitutional right to do so. Till today, the police have not returned our properties. None of us has been charged in court.

There is no doubt that Singapore has reached a state of lawful lawlessness or what Function 8 calls “legal opportunism”. Here is their statement:

https://fn8org.wordpress.com/…/function-8-condemns-legal-o…/

1 June 2016

Statement from Function 8

Function 8 deplores the intimidation of Roy Ngerng and Teo Soh Lung and the unnecessary seizure of their mobile phones and computers on 31 May 2016. This follows their interviews with the Singapore police at the Police Cantonment Complex pertaining to an investigation into facebook postings on cooling off day on 6 May 2016. The police have clearly abused their power of investigation as both Roy and Soh Lung had never denied, and indeed confirmed at the interview, that they had commented on, and shared postings on Facebook which had been made by others.

Function 8 deeply regrets the actions of the police in this unnecessary seizure which is an invasion of privacy and an act of intimidation against Roy and Soh Lung. In our view, it is part of a chain of recent incidents that encroach upon the work of civil society which contribute to the legitimate exercise of good citizenship.

We, at Function 8, condemn the use of governmental powers against sincere individual citizens and civil society groups that are striving to make our nation a more inclusive, and a more caring one, accountable for the welfare of our fellow human beings. This is truly an act of legal opportunism.

Function 8 Ltd

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About fn8org

For computers, it means to start again in safe mode. For us, we hope we can also start again in safe mode. But it's more like re-booting our systems and starting from much needed basics for democracy in Singapore.
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