12 Aug 2005

A protest in sunny Singapore

Originally spotted at Omeka Na Huria and traced back to Singapore Democrats. The story of what happened is retold by Chee Siok Chin one of the four protesters. The large number of police officers in riot gear appears rather heavy handed. The police officer, Dominic Baptist, stated that they were responding to a 'public nuisance' complaint received from a member of the public, so they sent 40 police officers with 10 or 12 in full riot gear. Could they inform the public who this member of the public is?

A protest in sunny Singapore
Chee Siok Chin
12 Aug 05

It would have been an activity of little significance in most parts Asia, save for perhaps Burma. A group of four citizens had donned on similar T-shirts and created quite a stir in the Central Business District area yesterday by calling for transparency and accountability from the government. One of them was me.

We had come together to make a statement – we want the PAP government to be accountable to the citizens. We want to know how our money is being invested or used by the GIC and CPF Board.

In our over-sized T-shirts that had messages asking for transparency and accountability, the four of us walked up to the entrance of the CPF Building at 12.30pm. We were greeted by a host of photographers and reporters. We took our positions and stood along the kerb. The cameras zeroed in on us and the messages we had on our Tees. The reporters also began to ask our spokesperson, Monica Kumar, a host of questions.

After answering all the questions, the four of us were left to our peaceful and quiet protest, with the reporters milling around. We were calm, unoffensive and relatively passive.

Suddenly a dozen or so riot policemen turned up in four riot vans (someone said that it was probably for one van for each of us). They were dressed in “warrior” garb, complete with darth-vader-looking helmets, truncheons and shields. Two more troops of regular uniformed male and female officers swarmed around us. All this on two female and two male activists who were were armed only with transparencies and silent? One reporter told us that this “drama” by the police was unnecessary. Thank you.

It was a ridiculous sight when one of the officers started shrieking: “Those of you not involved, move away from here!” It was as if 9/11 had happened in Singapore, except that the only “terrorists” were four of us armed with only two transparency signs. (I guess from the PAP's standpoint, signs calling for transparency in the GIC and CPF were potential explosives.)

A senior police officer by the name of Dominic Baptist told us to disperse or we would be arrested. But on what grounds? He said someone had called to say that we were a public nuisance. Public nuisance? You mean the police always send in the riot squad in response to public nuisance complaints? And besides, the four of us were standing still and keeping very quiet. Mr Baptist muttered something which we didn't quite understand and repeated that we were a nuisance and that our actions were an offence. Watch out, moms and dads! The next time your kids get a little too rowdy, you could be negotiating with the riot squad.

The group had agreed that we would do a 45-minute protest and it was about three minutes before we were going to disperse anyway. So one of us told the officer that we would go in three minutes, which we did when the three minutes were up.

We then walked to back of the building to wait for our transport. Perhaps feeling that they didn’t “win” this battle, Officer Baptist, accompanied by some junior officers and plain-clothes policemen approached us. By this time we had taken off our Tees. Then, like an after-thought or having taken instructions from someone who felt that it was insufficient that we had dispersed, he asked for our Identity Cards. They took down our particulars and demanded that we handed them our signs and T-shirts “for investigation”. I wonder what they'll do with our sweaty Tees. CSI fans, what’s your guess?

But jokes aside, we want our T-shirts back as they are priceless. Priceless because they will always remind us of the day the four of us found our courage and stood up to demand accountability and transparency from the Singapore government.


Anonymous said...

Transparency in CPF, Temasek, GIC?
Ha Ha Ha!!!

This is Singapore. When will Singaporeans ever learn that in Singapore, Singaporeans have no power. Just work like a slave and don't ask questions otherwise the riot police will come after you. If you're locked up, your fellow Singaporeans will just laugh at you for being so stupid to stand up against tyranny.

Remember THIS IS SINGAPORE. The whole place belongs to the PAP not the so-called citizens.

Anonymous said...

Dude, where's my country?

Freedom of speech, assembly and association
14. —(1) Subject to clauses (2) and (3) —

(a) every citizen of Singapore has the right to freedom of speech and expression;

(b) all citizens of Singapore have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms; and

(c) all citizens of Singapore have the right to form associations.

(2) Parliament may by law impose —

(a) on the rights conferred by clause (1) (a), such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part thereof, friendly relations with other countries, public order or morality and restrictions designed to protect the privileges of Parliament or to provide against contempt of court, defamation or incitement to any offence;

(b) on the right conferred by clause (1) (b), such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part thereof or public order; and

(c) on the right conferred by clause (1) (c), such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part thereof, public order or morality.

(3) Restrictions on the right to form associations conferred by clause (1) (c) may also be imposed by any law relating to labour or education.

clyde said...

You have the right to free speech... except it's not really free.

You have the right to protest peaceably....but only if we give permission.

It sounds a lot like giving with one hand and taking with the other to me. I wonder if police even have any rights to read you when you get arrested.

atreidai said...

Good for them anyways. At least some people are willing to lay it on the line, even if it's only 4 of them.

soci said...

The world has seen 4 people stand up. 4 people have have made international headlines, imagine the effect 40 peaceful protesters might have.

soci said...

or even better than that, imagine 4 tomorrow and 4 more every day for the next few months. Every day 4 different people for 1 year.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

I am more intrigued by the pictures of the riot police than by the images of the protesters.

The people standing obediently in rows with hands locked behind their backs look more like robots than police officers.

The two policewomen in the foreground of the second picture look rather sheepish. If only they knew that their pictures were going to be posted in so many blogs, they might have stood a bit straighter...

soci said...

I think they are afraid.

data said...

I run thru' memory to check if the curfew enforcement of the race riots were more impressive ...

lee hsien tau said...

rented an 'illegally renting' HDB rental flat in Tiong Bahru in 2002 out of no choice. The landlord (tenant of HDB) came and added her padlock. I then used a screwdriver and broke back into the flat to retrieve my belongings as well as paint the windows of the government owned flat (vandalism) so I can change clothes without exposing myself to people staying in the opposite block.

Two 3-stripes came to evict me. They were not interested in arresting me for
-vandalism of government property
-illegal tenancy
-breaking and entering

All they wanted was help the actual tenant of the HDB cover her illegal renting. All they wanted was to evict me and recover the key I had to the door.

What was surprising was the amount of uniforms patrolling the corridor of the (6th storey) flat, male and female (time was after the midnight hour) to keep busy bodies from witnessing the event. Another bunch arrived I presume to restore the flat (its a dirty job afterall).

My guess is the standbys are the cleanup party, if the need calls for it. I wonder if you recall the number of bullets pumped into the 'Singapore most wanted' that wasn't wearing underwear and just having his breakfast (reported by Sumiko Tan of 'the straits jacket')? Or the hijacking at Changi Airport with breadknifes? They brook no mistakes. They won't concede any quarters.

Anonymous said...

There is a legal reason why the demonstration consisted of only 4 persons, as any gathering of 5 or more persons that is ordered to disperse by an officer of the law must do so or they are in contravention of a certain statute I can't recall off-hand.

There is supposedly 'safety in numbers' if the number is less than 5. :)

Now imagine a hundred 4-persons teams wandering along Orchard Road giving out free transparencies, silently and not carrying billboards or wearing T-shirts with slogans...

clyde said...

The overkill use of power is as if Singapore's crime rate is so low that they have nothing better to spend their resources on (perhaps the riot police needed a little exercise). The fact that their first response to a group of FOUR protesters is the use of force shows that this 'Police State' has truly earned its name because they obviously lack the simple skills in dispersing situations like these. Even American law enforcement who seem pretty trigger-happy with taser guns would have been able to handle this with 1 or 2 officers. It was obvious the 4 protesters posed no physical threat. Perhaps S'porean police are not used to doing a little 'talking' with "troublemakers" and were only trained to bark orders at boot camp. Pure and simple by-the-book arrests. Perhaps THIS is Singapore's identity...one that has been contoured in fine lines by the law. So the question I still ask, was the overkill number of riot police more of a political statement than anything else? A warning to the rest who might have second thoughts about stepping up against the mighty government.

PS to the Anonymous above: That was exactly my thoughts a while back! heh.. I knew it was only a matter of time before someone started manipulating that rule. But as the recent protest shows, even that doesn't stop the cops from sending 'heavy' law enforcement down on you..

lee hsien tau said...

Clyde, you haven't seen the sheriff with the cowboy hat and Dirty Harry Magnum walking with his arms wide apart (because of the metal piece and truncheon) at the San Francisco airport. It's an awesome sight. Not like the bobbies at Heathrow of old

clyde said...

I don't doubt regular American officers aren't armed well enough to adequately respond to emergencies involving firearms. I personally haven't seen this before, but one of my friends who passed through Changi airport once spoke of how amused he was to see a short chinese woman police officer armed to the teeth at customs. Full metal jacket style. Probably with enough ammunition to take on Al Qaeda...heh. I didn't know however that sherriffs in San Fransisco wore 'cowboy' hats..

lee hsien tau said...

Man had a star pinned to his chest too. The type you see in cowboy movies. Three that patrolled together all wore at least size XXL.

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