Civil society event at Hong Lim Park to address public powers and due process

On 18 June, Community Action Network (CAN), Function 8 and Think Centre invite all concerned members of society to join us at Hong Lim Park for ‘Kenna Police How?: Your right to due process’.

Recent events have highlighted uncertainty among members of the public about the scope of police powers and how current procedures ensure due process. These events include Law Society President Thio Shen Yi’s February 2016 call for immediate or early access to counsel, the Benjamin Lim case, and recent police action in response to alleged breaches of the Cooling Off Day regulations.

This event has been organised to allow members of the public to share their experiences with police investigations, as well as their concerns and suggestions for how the fairness, proportionality and consistency of police action can be best ensured. Over 100 members of the public have indicated their intention to attend on Facebook, with 300 more expressing interest in the event.

“We urge more clarity about the rights of individuals in contact with police – especially vulnerable people like children or migrants,” said Kokila Annamalai, a volunteer with CAN. “When can the police archive your email or confiscate your phone? Do they need a warrant? More awareness of the scope of these powers is needed. It’s in everyone’s interests that justice is not only done, but also seen to be done.”

In January, as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations (UN), numerous UN member states made recommendations for Singapore to strengthen its protection of citizens’ rights to free expression. At the time, the Singapore delegation to Geneva affirmed its support for the UPR process and stated its commitment to protect fundamental human rights. We hope that the government will stand by its proclamations and welcome this event’s contribution to societal dialogue on advancing rights.

Among the speakers are civil society activist Vanessa Ho, who will address sex workers’ experiences with the police, Damien Chng of anti-death penalty group We Believe in Second Chances, and Function 8 member Pak Geok Choo. Members of the public are invited to create placards at the event to express their views on police accountability and their ideas for how the protection of individual rights can be achieved.

We invite you to attend this important event and to cover it for your media channel. For more information, please contact Kokila at communityactionnetworksg@gmail.com. Date: 18 June 2016 (Saturday) Time: 5pm – 7pm Venue: Hong Lim Park

About Community Action Network

Community Action Network is an NGO based in Singapore concerned about freedom of expression, and civil and political rights.

About Function 8

Function 8 is an initiative by a group of citizens who believe that there is a need to facilitate the sharing of social, political and economic experiences of those who had, or are eager to contribute to society through reflection and civic discussion.

About Think Centre

Think Centre (TC) is an independent NGO in Singapore that was founded in 1999. TC aims to critically examine issues related to political development, democracy, rule of law, human rights and civil society. Its activities include research, publishing, organising events and networking. It has been a member of Forum-Asia, a regional human rights organisation, since 2001.

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Cease all investigations against Teo Soh Lung and Roy Ngerng

We the undersigned are gravely concerned by the ongoing police investigations into alleged breaches by Roy Ngerng and Teo Soh Lung of the Cooling Off Day rules.

We are disquieted by the seizure of their property from their homes, in particular without warrant, and the wholesale and indiscriminate archiving of broad swathes of their personal data.  These excessive and intimidating measures are completely disproportionate to any harm alleged to have been caused by the actions of Ngerng and Teo.

To openly express a political view – including and especially views on party politics – is the fundamental right of every member of society.  If we are to achieve a democratic society where legislators and the government are truly representative of the values and wishes of citizens, every individual must be free to fearlessly express their views of politicians, parties and electoral processes.

For an individual seeking to understand the Cooling Off Day regulations, the application of the prohibitions on individual conduct is not clear.  Someone relying on the wording on the Elections Department website, which indicates an exemption for “the transmission of personal political views by individuals to other individuals, on a non-commercial basis, using the Internet, telephone or electronic means”, might reasonably conclude that their posts were exempt.

Given this ambiguity and the great importance of freedom of expression for individual citizens, it is wholly inappropriate for police investigations of such an intimidating and intrusive nature to take place.  The main effect of this police action is to intensify a climate of fear that deters the frank discussion of political issues by all individuals – a discussion that our society both needs and deserves.

We note that there have been previous allegations of breaches of the Cooling Off Day rules by electoral candidates.  Such conduct is far more likely to cause the harm to the electoral process which Cooling Off Day is designed to avert.  Yet we are not aware of such draconian investigations made in those circumstances.  A society which values the free exchange of political ideas must not apply more restrictive standards to ordinary citizens than to electoral candidates.

We call upon the state to ensure the immediate return of all confiscated property to Ngerng and Teo, the removal of any data obtained from them from state and police possession, and an immediate and total cessation of the investigative process.

Signed by:

  1. Abdul Salim Harun
  2. Adrian Heok
  3. Alex Sng
  4. Alexander Luciano Roberto
  5. Alfian Sa’at
  6. Alvina Khoo
  7. Ana Abdullah
  8. Ananth Tambyah
  9. Andre Goh
  10. Ang Chong Leong
  11. Annie Jael Kwan
  12. Ariffin Sha
  13. Ashukumar Veerapan
  14. Ashura Chia
  15. Azmi Monday
  16. Benjamin Matchap
  17. Benjamin Seet
  18. Bhavan Jaipragas
  19. Brendan Goh
  20. Brenton Wong
  21. Brian Yang
  22. Bryan Choong
  23. Cecilia Joven Ong
  24. Celine Lim
  25. Chang May Lian
  26. Chan Wai Han
  27. Chew Keng Chuan
  28. Chng Nai Rui
  29. Christine Sng Mechtler
  30. Chui Yong Jian
  31. Dan Koh
  32. Dana Lam
  33. Darius Zee
  34. Daryl Yang
  35. David Lee
  36. Dinah Sim
  37. Dolly Peh
  38. Edmund Wee
  39. Edward Eng
  40. Edwina Shaddick
  41. Elisa Kang
  42. Emily Lim
  43. Erica Chung
  44. Esther Kong
  45. Fadli Bin Fawzi
  46. Fadly Razali
  47. Farhan C. Idris
  48. Fenwick Melville
  49. Fong Hoe Fang
  50. Gina Lim
  51. Godwin Koay
  52. Goh Chok Chai Ricky
  53. Ho Choon Hiong
  54. Hong Weizhong
  55. Irene Oh
  56. Ivan Heng
  57. Jackie Heng Lim
  58. Jamal Ismail
  59. James Weng Hong Lam
  60. Jason Soo
  61. Jeremy Tiang
  62. Jocelyn Teo
  63. Johannes Hadi
  64. Jolene Tan
  65. Jolovan Wham
  66. Jony Ling
  67. Joo Hymn Tan
  68. Joshua Chiang
  69. Keith Tan
  70. Kenneth Lin
  71. Kokila Annamalai
  72. Kuan Wee
  73. Lee Yi Ting
  74. Li Xie
  75. Lim Jialiang
  76. Lim Kay Siu
  77. Lim Xiuhui
  78. Linda Ong
  79. Lionel Deng
  80. Lisa Li
  81. Lita Patricio
  82. Loo Zihan
  83. Low Yit Leng
  84. Lucas Ho
  85. Lukas Godfrey
  86. Lynn Lee
  87. Mansura Sajahan
  88. Mark Wong De Yi
  89. Matilda Gabrielpillai
  90. Megan Boey Sean Ching
  91. Melvin Wong
  92. Merv Tan
  93. Miak Siew
  94. Morgan Awyong
  95. M Ravi
  96. Muhammad Faliqh Rahman
  97. Muhd Firdaus
  98. Nathanael Tan
  99. Neo Swee Lin
  100. Ng Guohui Nigel
  101. Ng Yi-Sheng
  102. Niki Ng
  103. Nina Chabra
  104. Ong Sooi Eng
  105. Pak Geok Choo
  106. Rachel Zeng
  107. Robyn Yzelman
  108. Roy Tan
  109. Sam Lim
  110. Sam Ong
  111. Sathiya Moorthy
  112. Sean Francis Han
  113. Semangeline Teo
  114. Sha Jumani Basari
  115. Shelley Thio
  116. Shimin Wong
  117. Shirleen Chong
  118. Siauw Chong
  119. Siew Kum Hong
  120. Smith Adrian Jude
  121. Sonny Liew
  122. Stephanie Chok
  123. Stephen Baldy Ho
  124. Tan Elice
  125. Tan Pin Pin
  126. Tan Tee Seng
  127. Tan Zong Xuan
  128. Tay Kheng Soon
  129. Teng Qianxi
  130. Teng Yong Ping Daryl
  131. Terry Xu
  132. Thum Ping Tjin
  133. Timothy Todd
  134. Trevor Chan
  135. Valence Sim
  136. Vanessa Ho
  137. Vivian Wang
  138. Wendy Chan
  139. Wong Souk Yee
  140. Yap Ching Wi
  141. Yap Hon Ngian
  142. Yee Kai
  143. Zee Wong
  144. Zulkarnain Hassan

 

AMOS YEE, ROY NGERNG, AND FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IN SINGAPORE

The Community Action Network welcomes the news that Amos Yee has been freed. We understand he is in poor health after not having eaten for several days and wish him a speedy recovery.

Despite our relief at this turn of events, CAN would like to express our deep discomfort over the way the state has conducted proceedings against Yee. In prosecuting him as an adult, Singapore has breached its obligations under the UN Convention on Child Rights.

Even before he was sentenced, Yee spent a total of 55 days in custody, during which time, he was shackled, tied to his bed, deprived of sleep, denied access to toilet facilities, and placed in a mental institution alongside inmates who were criminally insane. He also faced the possibility of at least 18 months in a Reformative Training Centre, despite the fact that the option was not raised during his trial.

In handing Yee a backdated sentence of four weeks in prison, the court has narrowed not just Yee’s right to free speech, but also whittled away space for Singaporeans to express themselves. These are rights enshrined in Article 14 of Singapore’s Constitution and affirmed in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They should not be so readily eroded.

Yee’s Youtube rant was rude and in poor taste. But it should not be a crime to have an opinion, even if it is an opinion about a religion or religious figure. Yee did not preach hatred or incite violence with his words. He was merely expressing a point of view. His cartoon of two former world leaders having sex, while crude, can hardly be regarded as pornographic. Both the video and the drawing were simply attempts by a teenager to express himself. Those who disagree can either engage with or ignore him. There is no reason for the state to make a criminal out of an opinionated teenager. Yee’s convictions should be quashed.

A mature society is one in which opinions – even provocative ones – can be openly discussed and debated. We should not have to turn to the police every time our feelings are hurt. Indeed, by criminalising the verbalisation of certain views, we do nothing to cultivate tolerance.

Yee’s case isn’t the only Singaporean being persecuted for speaking his mind. Blogger Roy Ngerng faces financial ruin as a result of a defamation suit brought against him by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Ngerng has repeatedly apologised to PM Lee over his blog post on Singapore’s Central Provident Fund (CPF). He has also offered to pay damages of up to $10,000. But in court recently, Ngerng was told he lacked sincerity. He is now liable for damages of at least $250,000.

It is our belief that in raising questions about CPF, Ngerng was merely giving voice to the many Singaporeans who have similar queries. If the Prime Minister felt that his reputation had been impugned as a result, we respectfully suggest that the logical thing to do would have been to debunk Ngerng’s post in an open debate. Suing an ordinary citizen stymies discussion and raises even more questions in the minds of other citizens.

We believe that defamation suits brought by public personalities and holders of political office should meet higher thresholds of admissibility in order to safeguard free speech. Eminent individuals who enjoy easier access to the media (especially through their official positions) than the layman to remedy falsehoods should also be entitled to lower damages than that awarded to ordinary persons for the same injury.

Genuine progress is only possible when there is a free flow of ideas, robust debate and space for diverse opinions. A cohesive society is not built on a foundation of lawsuits and legal threats. Rather, we become stronger when we recognise that we can disagree and still coexist, and politicians will win more respect by engaging their critics, rather than bankrupting them through defamation suits.

Statement on the Assault on Amos Yee

First published here on May 1 2015

The Community Action Network is deeply alarmed at the recent attack on Amos Yee.

Yee was assaulted, in broad daylight, outside the State Court yesterday. It appears no one attempted to stop or pursue the assailant. Photographs of Yee shortly after the attack show that he suffered some bruising to his eye. It is unclear if he was sent for a physical examination or offered medical support following the incident.

In addition to the physical attack, Yee has been subject to weeks of verbal abuse on the Internet. The language used is often aggressive and emotional. One commenter – allegedly, a grassroots leader – said Yee’s penis should be severed and stuffed into his own mouth. Others hoped he would be raped in prison. Still others have suggested that he deserves a beating. No government official has spoken up or condemned the violent language. It would not be a stretch to say that their refusal to do so might have contributed to yesterday’s assault.

Given the rhetoric against Yee, and the numerous threats to his safety, he should have been “committed to a place of safety or a place of temporary care and protection” under the Children and Young Persons Act. Instead, he is now back in remand, over his failure to abide by his bail conditions.

CAN believes that the conditions imposed on Yee are unnecessarily onerous. Apart from having to report to his Investigating Officer every day, he is also barred from posting anything online. This curtailment of Yee’s right to express himself doesn’t just infringe on his constitutional rights as a citizen, it is also disproportionate to the charges he is currently facing.

We would also like to respectfully remind authorities that under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Singapore is required to explore measures other than judicial proceedings, when dealing with juveniles who might have breached the law.

We humbly suggest that the State might have overreached in its eagerness to prosecute Yee. We understand that the charge relating to harrassment has been stood down. We urge the State to withdraw it completely, and to do so with the other two charges as well.

Shelley Thio, Rachel Zeng, Jennifer Teo, Woon Tien Wei, Terry Xu, Roy Ngerng, Martyn See, Jolovan Wham, Lynn Lee, Kirsten Han, Vincent Law

Community Action Network and Reporters Without Borders Submit Joint Report on Freedom of Expression

Since the last General Elections, Singapore has seen an unprecedented crackdown on freedom of expression. Bloggers and citizens have been sued, harassed and charged in court for criminal offences. This report, written together with the NGO Reporters Without Borders was submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council for the Universal Periodic Review. It documents the many human rights violations committed by the Singapore government in curbing the right to free expression.

Read the report here: UPR_singapore_freedomofexpression_CAN

Assault on Amos Yee is Unacceptable and Reprehensible

The following statement was first published in the online citizen here

The Community Action Network is deeply alarmed at the recent attack on Amos Yee. Yee was assaulted, in broad daylight, outside the State Court yesterday. It appears no one attempted to stop or pursue the assailant. Photographs of Yee shortly after the attack show that he suffered some bruising to his eye. It is unclear if he was sent for a physical examination or offered medical support following the incident.

In addition to the physical attack, Yee has been subject to weeks of verbal abuse on the Internet. The language used is often aggressive and emotional. One commenter – allegedly, a grassroots leader – said Yee’s penis should be severed and stuffed into his own mouth. Others hoped he would be raped in prison. Still others have suggested that he deserves a beating. No government official has spoken up or condemned the violent language. It would not be a stretch to say that their refusal to do so might have contributed to yesterday’s assault.

Given the rhetoric against Yee, and the numerous threats to his safety, he should have been “committed to a place of safety or a place of temporary care and protection” under the Children and Young Persons Act. Instead, he is now back in remand, over his failure to abide by his bail conditions.

CAN believes that the conditions imposed on Yee are unnecessarily onerous. Apart from having to report to his Investigating Officer every day, he is also barred from posting anything online. This curtailment of Yee’s right to express himself doesn’t just infringe on his constitutional rights as a citizen, it is also disproportionate to the charges he is currently facing.

We would also like to respectfully remind authorities that under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Singapore is required to explore measures other than judicial proceedings, when dealing with juveniles who might have breached the law.

We humbly suggest that the State might have overreached in its eagerness to prosecute Yee. We understand that the charge relating to harrassment has been stood down. We urge the State to withdraw it completely, and to do so with the other two charges as well.

Shelley Thio, Rachel Zeng, Jennifer Teo, Woon Tien Wei, Terry Xu, Roy Ngerng, Martyn See, Jolovan Wham, Lynn Lee, Kirsten Han, Vincent Law

Support Amos Yee, Sign Our Petition

We would like to express our deep disappointment over the recent arrest of Amos Yee.

Singapore is an advanced and prosperous nation. We boast a highly-educated, literate and resilient population. We should allow space for people to express diverse opinions, and, if offended, engage in robust and civilized debate, without turning to the police or other legal avenues when disagreements arise.

And yet, for uploading a YouTube video deemed offensive by some, 16-year-old Amos Yee has been charged with harassment, and with deliberately wounding religious feelings. For posting a rude drawing featuring two politicians, Yee is accused of distributing obscene material.

In his video, Yee makes comments that some deem offensive to the Christian community.

However, we would like to bring your attention to a petition, started by a Singaporean Christian. It says: “As ugly as Amos Yee’s words were, we forgive because Jesus loved us despite our own fallen spiritual state.”

The petition has 3000 signatures so far and can be found here:https://www.change.org/p/the-government-of-singapore-release-amos-yee

In addition, Singapore is a signatory to the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child (CRC), in which children—those under the age of eighteen—require particular safeguards and protections. Article 3 of the convention emphasizes that “[i]n all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration”.

In instances when a child has been accused of infringing the law, Article 40 states that the child has to “be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child’s sense of dignity and worth”. There is a need to take into account “the child’s age and the desirability of promoting the child’s reintegration and the child’s assuming a constructive role in society”. We note that when Amos was arrested, he was handcuffed in front of his parents and grandparents, and was detained by the police for two days. The mainstream media also wrongly reported that his mother had made a police report against him when no such thing happened.

The convention further advocates alternative measures for dealing with such children, without resorting to judicial proceedings. These measures include “[a] variety of dispositions, such as care, guidance and supervision orders; counselling; probation; foster care; education and vocational training programmes and other alternatives to institutional care”; they should also be undertaken “in a manner appropriate to their well-being and proportionate both to their circumstances and the offence”.

Singapore’s prosecution of Amos Yee goes against the spirit of the Convention for the Rights of the Child (CRC).

Yee’s opinions about the late Lee Kuan Yew—no matter how offensive to admirers of the former Prime Minister—should be viewed as opinions of an individual. A mature society is one in which people engage each other in rational discourse, not one which resorts to punitive action to silence those with opinions deemed disagreeable.

We call on the government to drop the charges against Amos Yee. Measures taken against Yee are disproportionate and heavy-handed and violate the fundamental principles enshrined in the UN convention Singapore has signed. They do nothing to help Singapore evolve as a country. Instead of fostering tolerance, they encourage the policing of thought and speech. If we truly aspire to live up to the democratic ideals of our pledge, we need to find more progressive, compassionate ways of dealing with differences in opinion.

SIGN HERE