Monday, 22 April 2013

Allegations of Police Abuse Against SMRT Strikers Found to be Baseless: Ministry of Home Affairs

Bus drivers' claims baseless: MHA
Their statements on alleged abuse during police custody found to be inconsistent
By Feng Zengkun, The Sunday Times, 21 Apr 2013

Allegations of police abuse by two former SMRT bus drivers involved in last November's illegal strike have been found to be baseless, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) yesterday.

Chinese nationals He Junling, 32, and Liu Xiangying, 33, who were recently jailed and deported for instigating the strike, had not made any formal complaints but chose to air their allegations in a video clip posted online in January.

Then, they alleged that they were slapped, punched and threatened while in police custody.

But when police officers from the Internal Affairs Office (IAO) recorded statements from them in the presence of their lawyers in February, the details they gave of the alleged abuse were inconsistent, said the ministry in a statement.

The two men also retracted their allegations in further statements recorded later that month and in March. "He's statements were contradictory," said the MHA. "He retracted his allegations but yet maintained that the allegations were true."

The IAO has examined all the evidence available and interviewed 10 people believed to be involved in or have knowledge of the allegations and has concluded that the charges are baseless, said the MHA.


The ministry added that prior to the posting of the video, He and Liu had not made any allegations of physical abuse during police investigations even though they had many opportunities to do so.

"They could have raised the issue at any time while they were in police lock-up, when they were charged in court on Nov 29 or after they were released on bail on Dec 6," said the ministry.

The ministry added that He had been examined by a doctor on Dec 4 for gastric pain less than a week after the alleged incidents, but did not tell the doctor of any abuse. The police also did not receive any complaints from the Chinese embassy here regarding the matter.

In addition, it was revealed that when the IAO first contacted both men on Feb 2 about the allegations, they declined to give statements.

The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) then wrote to the men's lawyers two days later, informing them of the IAO probe.

"Rather than assisting, Mr Remy Choo Zheng Xi, acting for He, wrote to the prosecution to request that the police refrain from commencing investigations into the allegations," said the ministry.

Mr Choo, however, told The Sunday Times after the release of the ministry's statement yesterday that he had done so because the criminal case against He was ongoing then and any report from the IAO investigations might affect a potential trial. Mr Choo said that he answered the Attorney-General's Chambers the day after with a faxed statement of their position.

Responding to queries yesterday, the AGC said it would consider "appropriate measures" if He and Liu continued to make unfounded allegations.

Asked whether action would be taken against film-maker Lynn Lee, who had posted the video clip, the AGC said: "The question of whether or what action will be taken against persons in this case is under consideration."

Following the IAO's findings, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean said that the investigations had vindicated the officers in the case.

"We take allegations of police abuse very seriously," said DPM Teo. "However, we should also stand up for our officers when individuals or groups who break our laws or condone illegal actions, make baseless, false allegations against them."




VINDICATED

"We take allegations of police abuse very seriously, especially when they are formally lodged, and investigate them thoroughly.

"Where there is wrong- doing, the officers will be dealt with. This is essential to maintain professionalism, public trust and confidence in the police. However, we should also all stand up for our officers when individuals or groups who break our laws or condone illegal actions, make baseless, false allegations against them.

Our officers carry out their duties to keep us safe and secure, often in difficult and trying circumstances. The investigations have vindicated the officers in this case and protected their reputations."

- DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER TEO CHEE HEAN, following the release of findings of the police Internal Affairs Office






'Yahoo! did not verify facts'
By Feng Zengkun, The Sunday Times, 21 Apr 2013


In the reports posted on the website earlier this month, former SMRT bus driver He Junling had alleged that the ministry neglected issues raised by a group of SMRT Chinese bus drivers in 2010, although they did help the drivers retrieve their passports from the rail operator.

The ministry said the Chinese national's claims were untrue.

It said it had told the drivers at the time that it could only address statutory issues that breached the law.

Its officers had investigated living conditions in the drivers' dormitory and their allegations that they were not paid their bonuses.

The ministry had also informed the drivers' representatives of its findings, and met then SMRT chief executive Saw Phaik Hwa in April 2010 to highlight the drivers' concerns and asked SMRT to address them.

He, who was recently jailed and deported for inciting other SMRT drivers to strike last November, also alleged that while MOM officers were present on the first day of the strike to negotiate a settlement for the drivers, none showed up the next day to resume the negotiations.

He claimed that MOM did not tell the drivers that they were breaking the law.

The ministry said that these claims were also false.

Its officers had arranged a dialogue session between SMRT and the drivers on the first day of the strike.

After the session, SMRT and the drivers agreed that the rail operator would respond to their concerns within a week while the drivers would resume work the next day, the ministry said.

"However, the next day, a significant group of drivers refused to return to work."

At the same session, the ministry had told the drivers there were proper channels for them to raise their unhappiness and that their refusal to work was wrong, it added.

"He made unsubstantiated claims against MOM officers. Unfortunately, Yahoo! Singapore did not verify the facts with MOM before running the story," " said the ministry.

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said yesterday that his ministry takes a strong view of the allegations made by He.

"MOM officers acted professionally and fairly in dealing with the 2010 petition raised by the SMRT drivers and with the illegal strike last November. These attempts to cast doubt on their professionalism are unfounded, irresponsible, and contrary to public interest," said Mr Tan.






How the case unfolded

Nov 26, 2012: 171 SMRT bus drivers from China stage an illegal strike over their pay and living conditions at a Woodlands dormitory (right). The following day, 88 of them do not show up for work.

Nov 29: Four of the drivers, He Junling, Gao Yueqiang, Liu Xiangying and Wang Xianjie, are charged with conspiring to instigate the strike.

He faces an additional charge of inciting others to take part in the strike. All four are later released on bail.

Jan 28, 2013: In a video clip posted online, He and Liu allege that they were slapped, punched and threatened while in police custody.

Feb 5: The Ministry of Home Affairs issues a statement saying the police's Internal Affairs Office (IAO) has been tasked to look into the allegations of the drivers.

Feb 25: The four men plead guilty and are sentenced to jail. Liu is sentenced to six weeks' jail and He serves a seven-week sentence.

Some time in March: He and Liu are deported to China.

April 20: The Ministry of Home Affairs issues a statement concluding that the abuse allegations were "baseless". It says He and Liu retracted their allegations in statements recorded in February and last month, and the IAO also examined the evidence and interviewed 10 people believed to be involved in or have knowledge of the allegations.





Related
Allegations of Police Abuse Against SMRT Strikers Found to be Baseless
MOM's response to Yahoo! Singapore articles
Advocacy groups exploiting bus drivers' case, says Govt

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