12 Mar 2007

Singapore - Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2006

From the US Department of State

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 6, 2007

Singapore is a parliamentary republic in which the People's Action Party (PAP), in power since 1959, overwhelmingly dominates politics. The population was approximately 4.35 million, with foreign workers accounting for nearly one fifth of the total. Opposition parties exist, and parliamentary elections take place at regular, constitutionally mandated intervals (most recently in May). The PAP holds 82 of 84 elected parliamentary seats and all ministerial positions. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.

The government has broad powers to limit citizens' rights and to handicap political opposition, which it used. Caning is an allowable punishment for numerous offenses. The following human rights problems were reported: preventive detention, executive influence over the judiciary, infringement of citizens' privacy rights, restriction of speech and press freedom and the practice of self-censorship by journalists, restriction of freedom of assembly and freedom of association, some restriction of freedom of religion, and some trafficking in persons.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. On February 9, an inmate held in a courthouse cell claimed a policeman punched him twice when the inmate was found smoking and in possession of cigarettes and a lighter. The inmate was sent for a medical examination and filed charges against the policeman. The subordinate courts found the accused policeman guilty on March 29 and on April 4 sentenced him to four months in jail.

The penal code mandates caning, in addition to imprisonment, as punishment for approximately 30 offenses involving violence, such as rape and robbery, and for nonviolent offenses such as vandalism, drug trafficking, and violation of immigration laws. Caning is discretionary for convictions on other charges involving the use of force, such as kidnapping or voluntarily causing grievous hurt. All women, men over age 50 or under age 16, and anyone determined medically unfit are exempt from punishment by caning. During the year 5,984 convicted persons were sentenced to caning. Approximately 95 percent of caning sentences were carried out.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions, while Spartan, generally met international standards.

The government did not allow human rights monitors to visit prisons; however, diplomatic representatives were given consular access to citizens of their countries.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

The police are responsible for routine security within the country and for border protection, including action against illegal immigrants. The Internal Security Act (ISA) authorizes the Internal Security Department in the Ministry of Home Affairs to counter perceived threats to the nation's security such as espionage, international terrorism, threats to racial and religious harmony, and subversion. The police force was well trained and highly disciplined. Corruption was not a problem, and the police effectively maintained internal law and order. The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, an independent agency under the Prime Minister's Office, investigates all allegations of corruption including police corruption. Allegations of criminal offenses by police officers are investigated either by a police division other than the unit to which the accused are assigned or, in cases involving complaints of serious misconduct, by the Internal Investigation Division at police headquarters.

Arrest and Detention

The law provides that, in most instances, arrests are to be carried out after issuance of an authorized warrant; however, some laws, such as the ISA, provide for arrests without warrants. Those arrested under warrants must be charged before a magistrate within 48 hours. The majority of those arrested were charged expeditiously and brought to trial. A functioning bail system exists, but no commercial bail bond services were available. Those who face criminal charges are allowed counsel; however, there was no access to counsel during an initial arrest and investigation before charges were filed. The Law Society administered a legal aid plan for those who could not afford to hire an attorney. In death penalty cases, the Supreme Court appoints two attorneys for defendants who are unable to afford their own counsel.

Some laws--the ISA, the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLA), the Misuse of Drugs Act (the drug act), and the Undesirable Publications Act (UPA)--have provisions for arrest and detention without a warrant or judicial review. The ISA has been employed primarily against suspected security threats. In the past, these threats were Communist related; however, in recent years, the ISA has been employed against suspected terrorists. The CLA has been employed primarily against suspected organized crime and drug trafficking.

The ISA and the CLA permit preventive detention without trial for the protection of public security, safety, or the maintenance of public order. The ISA gives broad discretion to the minister for home affairs, at the direction of the president, to order detention without filing charges if it is determined that a person poses a threat to national security. The initial detention may be for up to two years and may be renewed without limitation for additional periods of up to two years at a time. Detainees have a right to be informed of the grounds for their detention and are entitled to counsel. However, they have no right to challenge the substantive basis for their detention through the courts. The ISA specifically excludes recourse to the normal judicial system for review of a detention order made under its authority. Instead, detainees may make representations to an advisory board, headed by a Supreme Court justice, which reviews each detainee's case periodically and must make a recommendation to the president within three months of the initial detention. The president may concur with the advisory board's recommendation that a detainee be released prior to the expiration of the detention order, but he is not obligated to do so.

At year's end, 34 detainees were being held under the ISA as suspected terrorists. Of these detainees, 31 were suspected of belonging to the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), and three were suspected of membership in the Philippines based Moro Islamic Liberation Front. In January Indonesian authorities arrested Mas Selamat Kastari, alleged leader of the Singapore branch of JI, and deported him to Singapore where he was detained under the ISA.

At year's end, 26 others were on restriction orders (ROs); this number included both released detainees and suspected terrorists who were never arrested. A person subject to an RO must seek official approval for a change of address or occupation, for overseas travel, or for participation in any public organization or activity.

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