The laws around CLTPA are controversial. It has its origins from the colonial era and was enhanced with more powers during the time of David Marshall as the chief minister of Singapore. The Law was originally meant for the preservation of public security to keep the communist movement in check, but as civil society members point out, the laws are outdated and it is nothing more than a tool for PAP’s self-preservation.
The Workers’ Party (WP) feels that the government has “gone too far” with adding amendments to the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA).
The origins of the ISA can be traced to the Emergency Regulations enacted in 1948 – a temporary provision that was subject to continual review and reissuance. The regulations empowered the British colonial authorities in Singapore to combat the communist insurgents during the Malayan Emergency, which lasted from 1948 to 1960. In October 1955, the Labour Front government led by then Chief Minister David Marshallreplaced the Emergency Regulations with the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance, which extended the duration of an individual’s detention to up to two years. The new law was enacted in response to a series of strikes and riots that had occurred in 1954 and 1955, including the National Service riots and the Hock Lee bus riots.3 The Federation of Malaya enacted the ISA to replace the Emergency Regulations in 1960, and when Singapore became a part of the Federation of Malaysia on 16 September 1963, an amended version of Malaysia’s ISA was extended to Singapore. The legislation was retained after Singapore gained independence on 9 August 1965.4
Mr Jufri Mahmood, the former chairman of the Singapore Democratic Party once said in a public forum that the opposition will use the same laws against the incumbents when the opposition gets into power. Sounds more like an eye for an eye.
It is wishful thinking for now, trying to break PAP’s stranglehold on power by reducing their two-thirds majority would be a better and more realistic target.
The big question is, is the law still relevant today? Our men in blue equivocally swears by it – we are faced with the heightened risk of a terrorist attack and the bad habits of our secret societies die hard. So we need this law for the preservation of public security, they argue.
In another article, we highlighted how a Channel News Asia article used a light touch approach on this topic to say that the law is primarily used to detain secret society members.
A look at how PAP has used this law to detain political activists is just evident of how draconian this law is.
In 1963, Operation Coldstore was launched against members of the Barisan Sosialis, a left-wing opposition political party allegedly involved in communist activities against the government. Several key leaders of the Barisan Sosialis were detained under the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance.12 The government led a further crackdown on the Barisan party members in 1966 for attempting to organise islandwide anti-America demonstrations in response to then President of the United States Lyndon B. Johnson’s visit to Malaysia.13 Chia Thye Poh, a former Barisan leader who was arrested under this crackdown, remains the longest-held ISA detainee: He was detained for 23 years and served nearly a decade on Restriction Order until his complete release in 1989.14 Through the years, Chia has denied the government’s charge of his alleged involvement with communists.15
On 6 May 1988, lawyer and political activist Francis Seow was detained under the ISA as part of government investigations into foreign interference in Singapore’s domestic politics. He was released from detention in July that same year, with restrictions placed on his overseas travel and contact with representatives of foreign governments.18
Parliamentary Debates A Non-Starter
On Tuesday, February 6, eight Members of Parliament from the WP voted against a bill proposing a five-year extension for the CLTPA, as well as additional amendments, including a listing of the criminal offenses the Act covers.
The Nominated MPs, Kok Heng Leun and Azmoon Ahmad also opposed the bill, while two other NMPs, Mahdev Mohan and Kuik Shiao-Yin, abstained in the vote.
The WP’s Dennis Tan and Pritam Singh took issue with how the bill reduced judicial oversight. Mr. Pritam reiterated that prisoners can’t challenge proof presented against them in open court, and that the rule of law is disharmonious with detaining people for an unknown amount of time.
Mr. Tan expressed his dismay with the amendments, saying “The most controversial and draconian aspect of this Act is the fact it puts people behind bars without usual due process. To take away someone’s liberty like this is not something we should take lightly.”
Sylvia Lim, the chairwoman of the WP, declared the amendments to be premature. She expressed her surprise that Parliament is to act on the CLTPA at this moment, when the Act does not expire until October 2019, since it lapses every five years.
She said that in the past, deliberations over the extensions did not take so long. Members of Parliament have to assess the current situation concerning order and crime for every renewal period, in order to determine whether the extension should push through.
She also wondered why Parliament is being made to evaluate circumstances that would renew an Act that won’t take effect until October 2019 all the way to October 2024. For her, it’s impossible to determine the situation of the end of next year, since circumstances can change.
Ms. Lim asked, “Does this not make a mockery of the careful consideration Parliament is to exercise, when assessing whether the prevailing circumstances justify a renewal of this draconian law?”
The bill was passed with the PAP majority supporting it. As a footnote in the pages of our history book, the civil society has made a statement which reads:
We oppose judicial power being given to the minister and public prosecutor in the guise of being “satisfied that it is necessary that the person be detained in the interests of public security, peace and good order”. (section 30(1)(a) of the CLTPA.) We believe in the separation of powers as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore. The power to order detention should only be exercised by our judiciary after a full open trial. Our judges should also have the power to conduct judicial review of abuse of power by the executive.
We are utterly dismayed that our government, despite its decades of experience in governing Singapore has deemed it necessary to punish the people of Singapore in this abusive manner by continuing to retain this unjust temporary law and indeed, by making it even more detrimental with the various amendments it enacted in the past and this amendment.
Too Little Too Late
Yes, another draconian law passed and it was just another day in parliament. A token debate before putting the matter to rest. We will not hear about it for another five years. It is now, done and dusted!
Now, we all can go about our lives, chasing KPIs and the government can embark on big mega projects, prime the economy and pump the GDP. And netizens can go on ranting on the Internet for the next five years.
Is there a growing distrust with the Government? Guess what? They don’t give a damn about it. It is just business as usual as far as the ruling elite is concerned.
Surely, we could have done more. Perhaps, more to create awareness around this topic and to educate the general public about how this law can be potent in the wrong hands.
WP’s communication team could have reached out to alternate and the mainstream media ahead of the parliamentary debates, could have conducted forums on this issue and reached out to the civil societies to galvanise support. But doing that is not in their DNA.
It appears that WP is just happy to engage PAP in Parliament and not beyond it. This is WP’s albatross to wear and as usual, the sitting government has so astutely used it.