Monday 23 December 2013

Repatriation of foreign workers in Little India Riot: No right to challenge

Law allows minister to decide who is deported
Being charged in court different from being ordered to leave country: Law Ministry
By Linette Lai, The Sunday Times, 22 Dec 2013

Critics of the Singapore Government's decision to repatriate 57 foreign workers involved in the Dec 8 Little India riot have confused two issues, Law Ministry officials said yesterday.

There is a difference between those who are charged before a court of law and foreigners who are ordered to leave the country, they pointed out.

"A person who faces a criminal charge has a right to due judicial process before he is convicted or acquitted on a charge," said Ms Praveen Randhawa, press secretary to Law Minister K. Shanmugam.

This was an issue Senior Minister of State Indranee Rajah also dwelt on when she spoke to reporters at a community event in Tanjong Pagar GRC yesterday, addressing criticism levelled by human rights and social activists in Singapore and abroad.

Amnesty International as well as local groups Maruah and Workfair Singapore have criticised what they viewed as the arbitrary deportation of workers who did not have the opportunity to defend themselves in court.

The 57 workers - all Indian nationals except for one Bangladeshi - were sent home last week after being issued stern police warnings and will not be allowed to return here to work.

Calling some of the comments "misguided", Ms Indranee said: "One allegation appears to be 'Oh, no due process', but the question is, due process for what?"

She pointed out the difference in treatment accorded to two groups involved in the riot.

Judicial process has begun for 28 Indian nationals facing rioting charges, she said. "If you're accused of a crime, you should be entitled to judicial process... the right to be heard and you have a right to representation," said Ms Indranee.

The repatriated workers, on the other hand, were not charged with any criminal offence, so the question of judicial hearings or access to justice did not arise.

Under Singapore law, she said, repatriation of foreigners is an executive decision, allowed for under the Immigration Act.

"So if the suggestion is there is no due process because it's not in court, that is not correct because the court process is inapplicable to this scenario," she said.

Under the Immigration Act, if the Minister for Home Affairs assesses that it is undesirable for a foreigner to remain in Singapore, he can be ordered to leave. All the men sent home were deemed by the Minister for Home Affairs as "a threat to the safety of Singaporeans", said Ms Indranee.

She also disagreed that the action was arbitrary and pointed to the process before the Government decided how those involved in the riot would be dealt with.

The authorities questioned 4,000 men and investigated 400 before deciding that 28 would face charges, 57 would be repatriated and about 200 issued advisories.

"It was a huge and immense effort and at the end of the day, the end result was a very carefully considered, calibrated outcome where you can see that those who are most culpable, certain types of actions are taken," she said.

"So it cannot be said that there is no due process under the Immigration Act."

She also said: "I suppose Workfair and Maruah don't approach it in the same way as the Government has approached it. The Government approaches it from the need to protect Singaporeans and to ensure that Singapore remains a place that is safe for everybody.

"One of the most important liberties," she said, was the ability "to go outside and walk around, not in fear that something's going to happen to you".

"That's a great liberty. But that liberty is achieved in Singapore because of the application of the laws that preserve our safety and security. And the repatriation orders were effected in that context," she said.

To those who insist that foreigners who are repatriated must be subject to judicial process rather than executive decision allowed under Singapore law, she had this to say: "Firstly, that's not our law, so you cannot say there is no due process under our law.

"If you're making that argument, then what you are really saying is that our system ought to be a different system, which is a separate question altogether."

Ms Indranee said the Government's response to that would be that every country has the right to determine its own laws and decide what works best, given its circumstances.

Singapore is also not the only place with such repatriation laws, she said, noting that Malaysia, Hong Kong, Britain and Australia have similar laws.

Safety, security of citizens come first: Law Ministry
The Sunday Times, 22 Dec 2013

The Law Ministry said yesterday that the key question in the issue of repatriating foreign workers is whether Singapore's laws should be changed to give foreigners who come here to work the right to be heard in court before they are sent home, or if it is in the interest of Singaporeans that decisions on repatriation continue to be made by the Minister for Home Affairs.

Ms Praveen Randhawa, press secretary to Law Minister K. Shanmugam, responded in a statement yesterday to points made by activists Jolovan Wham and Braema Mathi in letters carried in the free newspaper Today last Thursday and Friday.

Mr Wham, of the group Workfair Singapore, said the Controller of Work Passes and the Controller of Immigration here "should not have arbitrary powers to revoke work passes and deport migrant workers".

Ms Mathi, of the human rights group Maruah, wanted the workers sent before the courts before being deported and said due process should not be subordinated to expediency.

Both wrote in response to earlier comments on the issue by Mr Shanmugam.

"Today, one of the conditions under which foreign nationals are allowed the privilege to come here to work is that they can be repatriated if, for example, the Minister assesses them to be security threats.

Take the case of the 57 workers who were repatriated for participating in the Little India riot: If a court process had been necessary before they are repatriated, they could have stayed on in Singapore for a considerable period. They could have been given bail and be free to walk around Singapore, including Little India. And if they had not been given bail, they could be in our jails for a very long time, waiting for deportation.

If the rules are such that transgressors can stay on in Singapore to fight their repatriation orders, then at least some among them will be less deterred from transgressing. Some may also go underground.

These are not theoretical possibilities. The example of other countries shows that these are altogether likely and the repatriation process can take years. In some countries, repatriation is almost impossible.

Mr Wham and Ms Mathi should explain how Singaporeans would benefit if they had their way and a similar burdensome repatriation process were imposed here...

Every country has the right to choose its own system best suited to its circumstances.

Our system places paramount importance on the safety and security of our citizens, while ensuring the rights of those charged with criminal offences.

Our system is firm, just and fair."

Riot: Four accused face more charges
Court raises bail amount for the four; two other accused are out on bail
By Lim Yan Liang, Joyce Lim And Selina Lum, The Straits Times, 28 Dec 2013

FOUR men accused of rioting in Little India on Dec 8 were yesterday handed additional charges in court.

Arumugam Karthik, 24, faced two new charges: setting fire to a police car with one other person; and throwing pieces of concrete and overturning a police car with others.

The prosecution tendered one additional charge each against the other three men.

Chinnappa Prabakaran, 23, was accused of instigating a group to set fire to an ambulance; Bose Prabakar, 29, was accused of assaulting an auxiliary police officer by kicking him; and Moorthy Kabildev, 24, was accused of punching bus coordinator Wong Geck Woon inside the bus which ran over Mr Sakthivel Kumaravelu, 33, an Indian national who was a construction worker.

The accident sparked the riot, the first in more than 40 years.

Deputy Public Prosecutor John Lu singled out these four men and asked the Subordinate Courts to revoke their bail, given the additional charges they now faced.

When that was turned down, the DPP then asked for bail to be increased to between $30,000 and $60,000.

At a motion hearing later in the High Court, bail was increased to $60,000 for Karthik and $40,000 each for the other three men.

While Judicial Commissioner Tan Siong Thye did not grant the prosecution's application for bail to be revoked, he said the set bail of $20,000 was inadequate. He ordered the four men not to interfere with witnesses in the case, and to stay out of trouble.

Meanwhile, two of the 25 accused men have made bail. The first, Arun Kaliamurthy, was bailed out on Tuesday by his father's Singaporean friend.

In a statement to reporters outside the Subordinate Courts yesterday, the 28-year-old project manager repeated allegations that he was assaulted by the police. Arun, who was on a social visit pass when he was implicated in the riot, claimed he was "not nearby" when the riot occurred, but was picked up by police some time after midnight in a restaurant near Mustafa Centre.

He also told The Straits Times that he graduated from Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, with a master's degree in technology in 2009 and came to Singapore to work as an IT engineer in the same year.

At a dorm visit last week, Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry S. Iswaran said police take such allegations seriously, and would investigate them thoroughly.

The other accused who made bail was 22-year-old Chinnathambi Malesan, after District Judge Kessler Soh made an exception for his Malaysian employer to bail him out, instead of a Singaporean.

The judge agreed with defence counsel Suresh Damodara that Mr Lew Kok Leong, 51, had roots in Singapore, given his permanent residency since 1978, ownership of an HDB flat and his "absolute control" over Malesan's movement as his employer.

Mr Lew told The Straits Times that Malesan, who is from Tamil Nadu, has worked for him as a tiler for the past eight months.

"I lack a plaster tiler... it's very hard to get a good worker like him," said Mr Lew, who runs Bohonly General Contractors with a partner. It was the first time he was posting bail for a worker, and he did so with the support of his family and business partner. "He came to Singapore just a few months ago, so I'm trying to help him as much as possible."

Four more Indian nationals deported
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 21 Dec 2013

FOUR more Indian nationals involved in the Little India riot were sent home last night, taking the total number of workers deported over the Dec 8 incident to 57.

The men added to the list yesterday had initially been charged in court with rioting. Those charges were dropped on Tuesday but their involvement in the mayhem was deemed serious enough for repatriation, said the police.

The other 53, whose actions ranged from obstructing the police to failing to obey police orders to disperse during the riot, were never charged. But they were deemed to have posed a threat to the safety and security of Singapore - conditions that allow the authorities to deport and ban them from entering the country again under the Immigration Act.

The 57 - all Indian nationals except for one Bangladeshi - were served with immigration removal orders and deported in groups starting on Thursday. This was done after they were issued stern police warnings.

The latest development marks the end of the repatriation operation arising from the probe into unrest in the Indian enclave, said Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee yesterday.

There remain, however, around 200 other foreign workers who were called up by police to assist in investigations but who have yet to be dealt with. They will be issued with police advisories tomorrow morning, said Mr Ng.

He added that while a police warning is usually issued "in place of prosecution" and indicates that an offence may have been committed, an advisory is given to those who have not committed offences, and face no further action.

Mr Ng said those set to receive the police advisories had played "a passive and incidental" role during the riot, compared with the ones who have been deported.

Three other Indian nationals, who had charges against them dropped as well, will be issued with advisories together with the 200-odd other workers. All of them will be allowed to stay and work in Singapore, said Mr Ng.

Their employers, who will be notified by today, will have to be present with the workers when they receive the advisories.

"The advice is given to the guest worker, so he has to acknowledge that he has received it," said Mr Ng, adding that the advisory will be given both orally and in written form. "We want the employer to be present as a witness."

Meanwhile, the 28 charged with rioting are set to return to court on Monday after being remanded for investigations.

The Committee of Inquiry, appointed to look into the cause of the riot, has also started work.

Mr Ng said that the panel, heading by retired Supreme Court judge G.P. Selvam, has met 20 of the deported workers, including the four sent home last night.

The commissioner also reiterate that restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol in Little India will be in place from this weekend.

"Police officers will be present to enforce the order, and will act resolutely should they come across breaches and violations."

200 foreign workers get police advisories
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 23 Dec 2013

SOME 200 foreign workers who were present in the area during the Little India riot received police advisories at the Police Cantonment Complex yesterday.

Apart from the written notice, the workers, who came from more than 150 companies mainly in the marine trade and construction sectors, were also verbally briefed on Singapore laws and the country's zero-tolerance policy on rioting.

The foreign workers, who were accompanied by their supervisors, started arriving at the police complex at 10am. They were then led into the briefing in batches of more than 50 people. The briefing lasted about 10 minutes.

Mr Goh Chuan Heng, a project coordinator at Etron Resources, accompanied his worker to the session.

He said: "It was conducted by plain-clothes officers, and they spoke in English, and also in the workers' native languages."

Asked if he was aware of his worker's presence in the area during the riot, he replied: "My worker was just buying groceries at the Haniffa department store in Dunlop Street."

Construction worker Minor Karunakaran, who was there to receive the advisory, said he was not afraid.

"I did not do anything, so I'm not scared. I was just in Dunlop Street (on the day of the riot)," said the 22-year-old Indian national who is employed by Woh Hup.

While most supervisors told The Straits Times that they had advised their workers to avoid the Little India area for the time being, 70-year-old Heng Siak Hoe, who operates a spray-painting company, said it was impractical.

"Their dormitory is right there, in Jalan Besar. How can they avoid being in the area?" he said.

One of his workers was called up to receive the advisory.

Mr Heng said this worker had been with him for more than four years, and was a disciplined man who neither smoked nor drank.

The police issued a statement last night saying that its investigations confirmed that the 200 or so foreign workers who received the advisories were present in the area during the riot. "We are satisfied that their involvement had been passive and incidental," said the police.

No further action will be taken against the workers, they added.

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority of Singapore said that in the past three years, an average of 13,000 foreigners have been repatriated annually from Singapore under the provisions of the Immigration Act.

These include illegal immigrants, overstayers and those who have had their work privileges cancelled.

Five questions on the riot
Public seeks answers, lessons to be learnt from incident
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 21 Dec 2013

THE flames in Little India of two weeks ago have been put out but questions continue to simmer.

Dec 8 will be remembered as the day Singapore saw its most violent outbreak of street violence in 44 years.

The police acted decisively and swiftly. They called up 4,000 people for interviews within a week.

Among them, 28 rioters were charged in court and another 53 were deported and banned from returning. Some 200 passive onlookers were told that they can remain here, but will be sent packing if they break the law.

An independent committee has started probing the carnage. The four-man panel headed by a former Supreme Court judge is expected to take six months to complete its work.

The public will be looking to the panel for answers to at least five questions.

What happened exactly?

DEPUTY Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean described the riot as a "a very serious incident... arising from violent actions of an unruly mob reacting to a fatal traffic accident".

The accident where a private bus ran over and killed a drunk Indian worker, deteriorated rapidly into an orgy of violence.

Mr Annai Velu, who runs a provision shop at Race Course Road some 50m from ground zero, told me that he had never seen such violence before.

"There was so much rage. My car was damaged but thankfully my shop was all right," said the 51-year-old Singaporean.

While the broad story is clear, some crucial details are missing: How did the violence soar? How quickly did the mob form?

The committee's report will be a definitive, and hopefully blow- by-blow, account of the riot, to the extent that it is possible to document such an outburst.

Why did it happen?

BESIDES how the mayhem unfolded, another burning question is why it happened. The committee will not find any simple answer.

So far, the two prime suspects are alcohol and the fatal traffic accident. But were these the only two factors at play?

Foreign worker activists have jumped at grievances as a cause, while Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy associate dean Donald Low wrote online that "we should be open to the possibility that there were underlying grievances and social tensions which contributed to this riot".

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has rejected speculation that pent-up tensions might have been a cause, saying: "We have not seen any evidence of that."

The committee will have to decide whether to believe those who may claim that they rioted because they were unhappy with their bosses or some aspect of the Singapore system.

Indeed, it will be interviewing some of these workers to get to the bottom of what happened.

How police handled the riot

BY MOST accounts, the police handled the riot well. Although there was substantial damage to public and private properties, no innocent bystander was seriously hurt.

Some brave policemen bore the brunt of injuries, protecting others such as ambulance officers.

Mr K. Kesavapany, president of the Singapore Indian Association, praised the police for their restraint: "The police chose to bear the fury of a mindless mob."

Still, the riot police's response time is worth a closer look. The first troop of riot policemen from the Special Operations Command reached ground zero 45 minutes after they were activated. They took another 14 minutes to form up and break up the mob.

The police have already explained that they could not get into ground zero earlier as the roads were congested.

Soccer fans will remember seeing riot police's distinctive "ang chia", the Hokkien phrase for red vehicles, near the Jalan Besar Stadium or the now-torn-down National Stadium for football matches, especially when Singapore played Malaysia.

National servicemen will know this as "forward deployment", which means stationing response teams near hot spots where they may be needed.

This is something worth considering so that response time is shortened for future incidents.

Indeed, the police told The Straits Times that its crack riot troop already "conducts regular patrols in Little India as part of police's continual efforts to prevent and deter crime".

What about previous measures?

THIS newspaper reported on Dec8 last year, prophetically one year before the riot, that liquor stores were sprouting up quickly there. The police, which grant liquor licences, were reported to have said that they consider the law and order situation there in granting such licences.

To be sure, two weeks before the riot, the Ministry of Home Affairs was already considering a ban on the consumption of alcohol in common areas.

The problems at Little India cannot be solved by the police alone. In fact, the "whole of government" approach to solving problems was applied to Little India. In 2010, an inter-agency task force led by the Urban Redevelopment Authority implemented a $3.5 million project to widen pavements and erect safety barriers.

As the committee explores measures to prevent another riot, it can look into the successes and shortcomings of what the authorities have done.

What's next?

THE alcohol and bus service restrictions are, at best, temporary measures. With a population of five million - including more than a million foreigners - on this small island, the onus is on the authorities to be prepared for flare-ups that could erupt in future due to crowded conditions and the reality of individuals with different cultural codes and norms of behaviour living, playing and rubbing up against one another regularly.

Foreign workers doing low- paid jobs that locals shun will continue to be needed for the economy to run, even as the Government slows their inflow.

As we enter this post-riot phase, the public waits eagerly for the committee's report. It also wants to be assured that those in charge of keeping the peace and ensuring safety have the situation in hand, and that they will learn useful lessons from this riot - to help them better anticipate, manage and minimise the fallout of any future incidents.

Repatriation of 53 workers under way
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 20 Dec 2013

THE repatriation of 53 migrant workers involved in the Dec 8 riot in Little India has begun.

The men, all Indian nationals except for one Bangladeshi, are being sent home in groups starting yesterday, The Straits Times learnt.

Some of the men have met members of the Committee of Inquiry appointed to look into the cause of the incident and make recommendations.

Panel member John De Payva said that on Wednesday, the committee interviewed 16 of the 53 workers who were being held at the Admiralty West Prison, an immigration depot.

"We asked them to volunteer, and we had 16 who stepped forward. We've spoken to all 16," said the president emeritus of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) yesterday.

Mr De Payva, however, declined to reveal details of the interviews, citing the ongoing inquiry.

The actions of the 53 workers during the riot ranged from obstructing the police to failing to obey police orders to disperse, police investigations showed.

They were deemed to have posed a threat to the safety and security of Singapore - conditions that allow the authorities to deport and ban them from entering the country again under laws such as the Immigration Act.

On Wednesday, civil society group Workfair Singapore said it had appealed to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants over what it called the "arbitrary deportation" of the 53 workers.

Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs K. Shanmugam had said earlier that if such cases went to court and the repatriation decision became judicial rather than administrative, then "every foreigner is entitled to stay here at taxpayers' expense, housed here at taxpayers' expense", with cases possibly taking a year to conclude.

He added that under the Immigration Act, the Government could ask an individual to leave once it has been determined that he acted contrary to Singapore's interests or acted in a manner prejudicial to public security or safety.

Apart from the 53 being sent home, 200 will be given advisories to obey the law and will be allowed to remain and work in Singapore. A third group of 28 have been charged with rioting and are in remand. They are expected back in court on Monday.

The inquiry panel, led by former Supreme Court judge G. P. Selvam, is expected to submit its findings and recommendations within six months.

Workers return to more order in Little India
Smaller crowd, more space and new queueing system for buses help
By Royston Sim And Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 23 Dec 2013

FOREIGN workers returned to a more fortified Little India yesterday, two weeks after the riots, as private bus services to the area resumed, albeit at half the usual strength.

The Sunday evening scene was far more orderly than usual, after the Land Transport Authority (LTA) imposed new queueing arrangements at the bus pick-up points.

The calm in the Indian enclave was helped by a far smaller crowd, with bus operators estimating only 20 to 40 per cent of the usual foreign worker population.

Many continued to stay away, dissuaded by a strong police presence, said workers, as plain- clothes and uniformed police officers patrolled the area.

The lure of Little India was also dimmed by the ban on consuming alcohol in public, even though restrictions on sales have been relaxed. The reduced crowd gave workers more space, aided by new barriers along Hampshire Road which blocked off one traffic lane. Previously, they were squeezed on the sidewalk.

Cars were not allowed to enter from Kampong Java Road, and the barriers were used to stagger queues to various dormitories.

Said Singapore School and Private Hire Bus Owners' Association president Neo Tiam Beng: "It was very messy last time, like a market. It's more orderly now."

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew told The Straits Times that more improvements will be made.

He hopes to create more space along Hampshire Road so workers can queue up properly, possibly under shelter, and to allow buses to overtake on Hampshire Road.

In Tekka Lane, the LTA cut away part of a kerb to reverse the direction of buses picking up workers. Long queues of workers snaked around the area, as controllers from the Singapore School Transport Association fielded questions from workers wondering which queue to join.

Xing Sheng Transport Services owner Lim Yong Long, 55, said not all workers were aware that bus services had resumed after last week's suspension.

Bus timekeeper Wendy Lim said she had to wait for nearly two hours before workers filled up a bus at a Toh Guan dormitory.

Supervisors said they had discouraged their workers from heading to Little India. Dormitories, too, had planned special activities to keep the workers occupied for the weekend.

The last bus ferrying foreign workers back to their dormitories was slated to leave at 9pm last night, two hours earlier than the usual 11pm. Construction worker Sathish P, 29, was still having his dinner at 9.15pm. He said: "I didn't know the buses stopped at 9pm, nobody told me."

Buses continued ferrying workers after 9pm, though LTA staff and police officers stopped workers from joining the queue.

Separately, some 200 foreign workers present in the area during the Little India riot received police advisories at the Police Cantonment Complex yesterday.

Dorms organise weekend events
Workers will not need to go to Little India if there are more on-site facilities
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 20 Dec 2013

DORMITORY operators are planning a slew of activities from movie screenings to flea markets and even short trips across the Causeway to keep foreign workers occupied on upcoming weekends and public holidays.

With limits on weekend alcohol sales in Little India, and the 50 per cent cut in the private bus services that usually ferry some 22,000 workers there every Sunday, dorm operators believe fewer workers will head to Serangoon Road on their days off.

The measures, announced by the Government on Wednesday, will last for up to six months, until a Committee of Inquiry looking into the Dec 8 riot at Little India makes its recommendations.

Dorm operators The Straits Times spoke to said they are drawing up a calendar of social events for workers, which will include day trips to Malaysia during the Chinese New Year holidays and monthly Sunday outings to attractions such as Gardens by the Bay.

However, their most pressing goal is to ensure that the workers can relax and run errands at their dorms instead of having to go to Serangoon Road.

Westlite chief operating officer Kelvin Teo, who runs three dorms housing 18,000 men in all, said his staff are planning a karaoke event for workers this weekend.

Westlite will also allow them to use the astroturf courts at two of its dorms for cricket. Nets will be placed around the courts by early next year so that cricket balls do not fly out of the compound.

"When they play cricket, other workers will come and watch too. I think we will be able to attract a large crowd," said Mr Teo.

Singapore Contractors Association Limited will screen Hollywood and Bollywood blockbusters this weekend at its six dorms, which house some 20,000 workers. It will also hold badminton, football and other matches.

Mini Environment Service (MES), which runs three dorms for 25,000 workers, already runs a weekend flea market where items such as cellphone accessories and men's clothing are sold. But it plans to bring in more vendors with a wider range of goods such as toys and clothes for women, which workers can send as gifts to their families back home.

"We want to make things more convenient for the workers. They are tired after work and need to rest," explained business development manager Yusof Lateef.

MES also runs beer gardens at its dorms so that workers need not go outside to drink.

Indian national V. Deva, a shipyard employee who lives in a dorm at Tuas, said workers would gain from having more amenities where they stay. "I'm tired after work but I still have to go to Little India or Boon Lay to send money home," said the 37-year-old, who has worked here for four years. "It is better if I can do this from the dorm."

Shipping foreman Weslin Raj, who came here from India 10 years ago, said dorms can persuade workers to stay in by providing free WiFi in the rooms. "We can surf the Internet and chat with our family members back home," said the 35-year-old, who also lives in a Tuas dorm.

Yesterday, officers from the Rochor Neighbourhood Police Centre started distributing leaflets to inform shopkeepers of the alcohol restrictions, which apply on weekends, public holidays and their eve. The rules include limiting liquor sales by retailers to between 6am and 8pm. There is a complete ban on drinking in public.

Little India riot: Police ‘will investigate complaints of abuse thoroughly’
By Neo Chai Chin, TODAY, 19 Dec 2013

The Deputy Police Commissioner yesterday said every complaint of abuse while in police custody will be investigated “thoroughly” and warned of action against those who make false allegations, as a civil society group called for independent investigations into claims of police assault made by some alleged rioters.

The allegations were made in court on Tuesday by some foreign workers remanded following the Little India riot on Dec 8. Calling the allegations of assault extremely grave, labour rights group Workfair Singapore said it is imperative that they be investigated “thoroughly and openly so as to avoid any suspicion of impropriety”. It added that an independent investigator should be appointed.

At a press conference yesterday evening, Deputy Police Commissioner T Raja Kumar said the police take a serious view of all complaints made by accused persons against officers. Should criminal charges be disclosed, action will be taken against the officer concerned, he said.

However, “appropriate action” will be taken against those who furnish false information to the police — an offence under the Penal Code, he said.

“As the case involving the accused (is) currently before the courts, I cannot go any further beyond what I have just mentioned,” said Mr Raja Kumar.

Human rights activists also pressed for the 52 Indians and one Bangladeshi due for repatriation to be given the right to appeal or be put through judicial proceedings.

The authorities on Tuesday announced that the 53 individuals would not be charged in court as their involvement in the riot was “less egregious” — failing to disperse despite police orders to do so, for instance.

Such “arbitrary deportation” raises “grave concerns about the rule of law”, said Workfair, which added that the Controller of Work Passes should not have arbitrary powers to revoke work passes without the right of appeal, or the Police Commissioner to determine culpability.

In an AFP report, Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson questioned why “so many” migrant workers were being deported without a judicial proceeding, while Amnesty International Deputy Asia-Pacific Director Isabelle Arradon said the authorities were “moving too quickly” in dealing with the alleged rioters.

Mr Raja Kumar said laws here provide for the repatriation of those assessed to have posed a threat to Singapore’s safety and security, and that the 53 individuals “satisfy the conditions”.

Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam had said in a visit to a foreign workers’ dormitory on Tuesday that Singapore’s repatriation laws are unlike those in some countries, where repatriation decisions are made in court.

In this case, the authorities had interviewed about 4,000 people, investigated over 400 and settled on 53 to repatriate, “so I don’t think you can say they chose them on an irrational basis”, Mr Shanmugam had said.

Singapore’s current system works “quite well” and society has to decide if the alternate approach — where repatriation decisions are judicial, which would entail different costs and processes — is workable here, he had said.

Don't jump to conclusions on cause of riot: Rights group Maruah
By Toh Yong Chuan And Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 24 Dec 2013

LOCAL human rights group Maruah has urged officials not to jump to what it says could be premature conclusions on what caused the Little India riot.

At a forum last night, its president Braema Mathi said that some leaders have already made assumptions, such as drunkenness being a possible cause.

"The investigations are ongoing, we do not know exactly what are the outcomes, but already quite a number of statements have been made," she said to the audience of about 100 participants, without naming anyone.

The Government has set up a Committee of Inquiry (COI) to find out the causes of the Dec 8 riot.

Ms Mathi also called for immigration laws to be amended so that foreigners are not deported without due process.

Nearly 60 foreign workers were deported last week for their part in the melee - a move that Ms Mathi slammed, saying "we need to have more information" about their repatriation.

The Government has defended the repatriation, saying Singapore has a right to choose its own system and the men were sent home as they were deemed a threat to citizens' safety and security.

Besides Ms Mathi, the forum featured other speakers including migrant workers group TWC2's president Russell Heng, labour activist Jolovan Wham and Mr Vincent Law, a director at non-government group HealthServe.

Mr Heng criticised the Manpower Ministry for allowing firms to alter contracts after foreign workers arrive in Singapore, while Mr Wham presented a wish list on how he hopes the COI will conduct its probe, including holding public hearings.

Yesterday's forum was initially slated to be held at the Ananda Bhavan restaurant in Little India, but was switched at the last minute to the Marketing Institute of Singapore along North Bridge Road.

The police said in a statement yesterday that Maruah had misrepresented the nature of the event to the restaurant owner, who had then decided to cancel the booking for the event "of his own volition".

The police had visited the restaurant last Saturday to find out more about the forum, which they were concerned "could pose a potential law and order issue".

The restaurant's chief executive Viren Ettikan told The Straits Times yesterday: "We told (the police) that we were not aware, we didn't know the forum's exact contents."

He thought the event was "for some charitable cause, or a discussion", he added.

On Sunday, Maruah issued a statement saying that the authorities should have contacted the group directly, instead of going to the restaurant.

A police spokesman said yesterday that they had previously advised the public against organising any activities in Little India that could heighten emotions and cause concern during this period, so as to give residents and the Little India community the "space and time" to recover from the riot.

We were merely a venue provider: MIS
TODAY, 27 Dec 2013

Distancing itself from human rights group MARUAH, the Marketing Institute of Singapore (MIS) yesterday claimed that it would not have accepted the non-government organisation’s (NGO) booking of its facilities to hold a public forum on foreign worker issues earlier this week, if it had known the “exact nature” of the session.

The Foreign Workers, Justice and Fairness forum was held on Monday in a training room at MIS, following the last-minute cancellation of MARUAH’s booking by the owners of its original venue, a restaurant in Syed Alwi Road, after the police contacted them to seek more information on the event.

In a press statement, MIS Honorary Secretary Roger Wang said its hosting of the event “is in no way a show of support or association with MARUAH’s mission, objectives and values”.

“We were merely a venue provider. We would like to further clarify that MARUAH booked our training room without stating the exact nature of the forum to us,” he added.

MIS said MARUAH President Braema Mathi had made queries about rental rates in late October and was told “face-to-face” by a staff that activities related to politics or religion were not allowed on its premises, as stated in MIS Constitution as well as rules under its registration with the Registrar of Society (ROS).

Despite the statement by MIS, Ms Mathi said the NGO was grateful that the institute allowed it to book a venue to host the forum at the eleventh hour. The booking was accepted by MIS on Monday morning, about eight hours before the event was to start.

Ms Mathi said MARUAH had also used a room at MIS in July for an event to commemorate Nelson Mandela’s birthday. Among other things, participants learnt about the life of the anti-apartheid hero — who died earlier this month — and his struggle for democracy.

Ms Mathi confirmed that MIS had informed her that political or religious activities were not allowed on its premises.

But it was MARUAH’s view that the topic of the discussion at the forum was a “socio-political, socio-economic and social issue”, she said.

“MIS is aware that we are a political association,” she said, adding that MARUAH had filled up the booking form accordingly and posters stating the forum’s title and other details were also put up at MIS before the event.

Costs of protracted judicial process not reason for denying access to justice
By Jolovan Wham, Workfair Singapore, TODAY, 19 Dec 2013

I am concerned by the Law and Foreign Affairs Minister’s remarks, in “28 charged as police complete riot probe” (Dec 18), that it is acceptable to deport workers without a court process.

The costs associated with a protracted judicial process should not be reason for denying access to justice. The Controller of Work Passes and the Controller of Immigration should not have arbitrary powers to revoke work passes and deport migrant workers.

The costs cited are justified, considering the economic contributions of migrant workers. Moreover, social justice, equality and human rights are important to every society and should not be sacrificed for the sake of efficiency and costs.

These values make Singapore a progressive society and the decision to deport the 53 workers should be reconsidered.

Consider those inconvenienced by riot
By Ho Kong Loon, TODAY, 20 Dec 2013

I refer to Mr Jolovan Wham’s letter, “Costs of protracted judicial process not reason for denying access to justice” (Dec 19).

While his position in and commitment to Workfair Singapore mandated his stance, would he also make a personal stand for Singaporeans who were traumatised or inconvenienced by the riot? Would he articulate on behalf of the bus timekeeper who was injured by the rioters? She might have been killed if some stout-hearted workers had not ushered her onto the bus.

Would he empathise with the ambulance driver and National Service policemen who must have felt the terror of being heavily outnumbered by a destructive mob? Would he factor in the costs of replacing burnt government vehicles, to be borne by taxpayers, and the repairs to the other vehicles?

Would he consider the losses suffered by businesses in Little India due to the restrictions on alcohol consumption and bussing of workers to and from Little India on weekends?

Would he commiserate with the police and Civil Defence personnel who faced missiles and assaults? The former had to shield the latter in extricating the bus accident victim.

Would he feel Singaporeans’ anxiety over security issues and related matters? Innocent foreign workers, too, feared for their jobs subsequent to the riots.

Deportation a tough but necessary option
Editorial, The Straits Times, 28 Dec 2013

THE deportation of 57 foreign workers for their role in the Little India riot is no cause for celebration. Migrant workers typically borrow large sums in their home countries to pay agents to secure jobs in Singapore. They need to make good on their stay here to pay off debts and support their families. Sudden repatriation can mean a financial disaster on top of unfulfilled dreams. However, empathy with foreign workers is contingent on their readiness to abide by the laws of the host country. Those who take part in riots, in whatever capacity, forfeit any claim to public sympathy.

In this context, the argument made by foreign labour activists, that due process was subjected to expediency in Singapore's handling of the repatriations, is misplaced. Due process here includes the right of the authorities to determine administratively who should be deported. Due process in certain other jurisdictions means giving judicial access to those faced with deportation. Singapore is different because it does not wish to replicate the experiences of places where repatriation involves a long, arduous and expensive process during which those faced with deportation stay on at the taxpayers' expense till the process is exhausted. Arguably, the certainty of this access could well encourage the breaking of the law in the first instance. Nations where individual rights are privileged in this way are free to extend their particular concept of due process to immigration offenders. Singapore, a small state in which the primacy of order is the foundation of justice, cannot afford to take chances with the security which makes order possible.

Non-governmental organisations working for the welfare of foreign workers - a worthy and admirable goal in itself - should be clear about whether they want Singapore to go the full way to the judicial oversight of repatriations, with its attendant financial, social and possible security costs. Singaporeans then would be in a position to judge whether they prefer protracted repatriation cases over trust in the authorities to exercise their executive powers judiciously and impartially.

The fact that fewer than 60 workers were identified for deportation, out of the 4,000 interviewed and 400 investigated in the aftermath of the riot, hardly makes a case for state vendetta against helpless foreigners. The offences of those deported ranged from obstructing the police to defying orders to disperse. The vast majority of foreign workers, who continue to contribute to Singapore's economy and their own, are proof that their labour is valued even after the dreadful riot. Foreign workers must respect the laws that make Singapore a safe place for them as for Singaporeans. That must be their compact in coming here.

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