At last, the new normal gives way to the old abnormal – Martyn See
The Singapore Police Force on Wednesday 12 October 2011 launched investigations into two separate events that discussed issues surrounding the need to abolish ISA in the city-state.
According to replies given to the Singapore media in the recent days by the Ministry of Home Affairs, these investigations surround complaints that foreign speakers were discussing domestic political issues in the island republic.
The gathering of information formally got underway Wednesday morning when investigators from two different police divisions began questioning separately two persons issued with a notice to appear for investigations.
One was Mr. Martyn See, executive secretary of NGO Singaporeans For Democracy (SFD) who was questioned at the Cantonment Police Complex, while the other was a recent parliamentary elections candidate, Mr. Alec Tok of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) at the Tanglin Police Station.
The NGO forum organised by Singaporeans For Democracy and attended by 30 people took place on 24 September 2011, featured Malaysian Member of Parliament Tian Chua, Cambodian MP Mu Sochua and Singaporean ex-ISA detainee Vincent Cheng and blogger Alex Au.
In keeping with the Singaporean aversion to politics, the NGO forum had to change its just venue minutes before the activity after the original venue administrator, the Singapore Human Resources Institute, cancelled the pre-paid booking because the event was “political” and locked the participants out. [Jacob 69er: Watch the forum video here]
Two weeks later on 8 October 2011 discussions on the need to abolish the ISA continued at another forum, this time organised by the Singapore Democratic Party. Two overseas based ex-ISA detainees spoke about their experience during detention to some 120 people at a local hotel room via internet teleconferencing.
Promptly on the next day the Ministry of Home Affairs labeled the two (who are ex-Singaporeans due to legal technicalities), Mr Francis Seow, 83 as a “fugitive from justice” and Ms Tang Fong Har, 55 a “foreigner”.
The two former Singaporeans are unable to return due to legal reasons, were said to be “foreigners” participating in domestic politics without being physically present in Singapore thereby giving the police grounds to investigate the SDP for a possible breach of law. [Jacob 69er: Read the reports on the forum here and here]
At the heart of these two investigations is the role of new technology in facilitating discussions on the ISA in Singapore and the need to abolish it.
In the case of the NGO forum, it was billed as a private event and participants were invited through a Facebook events page and email so as not to fall into the category of a public activity.
Yet according to a Facebook posting by Martyn See, he spent 90 minutes with the police answering 48 questions which mainly nitpicked if the NGO event was private or public.
Meanwhile the SDP event is being investigated because the organisers allowed the two ex-ISA detainees residing overseas for the first time in 20 years to interact with members of the public here over Skype.
It is ironic, that on the same day as the SDP forum, the Dalai Lama, when he was unable to secure a visa to travel to South Africa to celebrate Desmond Tutu’s birthday, used the internet and Google+ to communicate with the audience in South Africa and also criticize China.
Although, the investigations in Singapore are in the early stages, Net opinion is generally against these police questionings.
Most think that it is a waste of a tax payers’ money and that the real issue is that the laws pertaining to freedom of expression in Singapore are still behind developments in new technology in comparison to its use in other jurisdictions.
Meanwhile, more persons are expected to be called up for police questioning over these ISA forums in the next days.
Dr. James Gomez is a Singaporean academic and presently manages an independent consulting initiative – The GOMEZ Centre. He is also Executive-Director of Singaporeans For Democracy and a recent parliamentary elections candidate for the Singapore Democratic Party.