Security Threats or Scapegoats?

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By Benjamin Cheah

Among the 57 foreign workers   repatriated for allegedly participating in the Little India riots, four of   them were originally slated to face criminal charges. While the   Attorney-General’s Chambers decided to withdraw the charges against those   four, they were deported anyway for being “security threats”.

In a Dec 31 posting on   Factually, the government revealed that the police had “identified” the   quartet for “failing to disperse” despite orders from the police. This    “threatened public order”, making their “continued presence in Singapore   undesirable”. Under the Immigration Act, the government need not go through   the courts to deport a foreign worker; it need merely find the person   “undesirable”.

The government tries to frame this as   a security issue, justifying its powers of deportation as beneficial for both   Singaporeans and foreigners. On the website, the government said: “If allowed   bail, [these foreign workers] would either be free to live within our   communities despite being a security threat or, if they cannot afford bail,   remain detained in our prisons for a prolonged period to await the conclusion   of the court proceedings.”

But it is unclear how the four were    “identified” as “security threats”, especially why they “failed to disperse”.    If they had wilfully defied police orders, the police could make the case that   they were a threat – in which case, they would have been dealt with in court.   But if they had failed to disperse because they did not understand police   instructions, there is no proof of malicious intent. In which case, there are   no grounds for criminal prosecution – and no grounds for assuming they are   security threats.

Due Process

The government claimed “due process”    was followed, as the police interviewed over 4,000 workers and investigated   400. In addition, the government said the Indian and Bangladeshi High   Commission were given full access to those who were charged and repatriated,   and the Committee of Inquiry had met some of them as well.

However, Mr Terry Xu, editor of The   Online Citizen, argued the investigations were flawed. Members of TOC went to   the Tekka Lane dormitories where  Sakthivel Kumaravelu, the worker whose   death sparked the riot, came from to ask about how the investigations were   conducted.

Xu said workers who were recorded   returning to their dorms after 10.30pm on the day of the riot were separated   for examination. The police asked them to take off their clothes and inspected   them for injuries. Those with injuries were taken away for further   questioning, as well as workers who had declared they were at Little India.    “Four buses of workers” in all were sent away.

 Xu noted that only workers who   lived in the dormitories were targeted. “Those workers who lived in company   dorm or HDB rental flats, they basically can’t trace them at all.”

“No one really knows why were the 53   asked to be deported and then the 200 warned, given that it is more than a few   thousands interviewed,” Xu said. “There is nothing that ties the police’s   decision to charge the individuals to their being involved in the   riot.”

As criminal and repatriation   proceedings mount, some workers are crying foul. Arun   Kaliamurthy said he was in the vicinity when the riot broke out. He   claimed he left the area immediately, but was later picked up by the police   and accused of rioting. He also alleged that he was assaulted while in police   custody.

Currently, Kaliamurthy has to   report to the police every Friday, stay indoors between 8pm and 6am and keep   away from Little India. His passport has been confiscated, his social   visiit pass was converted into an S-Pass after he pleaded not guilty and was   granted bail. He has to update his S-Pass every morning at 9am at the   Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.

Kaliamurthy called this practice of   updating his S-pass daily “discriminatory”, because “such a requirement is not   imposed on others in a similar situation.” He was informed by his   lawyer, M Ravi, that this requirement contravenes Article 12 of the   Constitution, which prohibits such discrimination.

“I am extremely disappointed with the treatment I have received from a   country which prides itself on high standards of justice and equality,” he   said.

While due process was technically   followed, the police investigation is being cast into doubt. It is unclear how   many of the deported foreign workers had definitely participated in the riot.   As a result, it is still unclear why the government deems those workers     “security threats” — or, indeed, why they were repatriated at all.

The Indian and Bangladeshi High   Commissions did not respond to enquiries.