June 28, 2017

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by Suhaile Md and Sharanya Pillai

MUSLIM sectarianism has reached Singapore.

AETOS Auxiliary Police Officer Muhammad Khairul bin Mohamed wanted to fly to Syria to “fight against the Shi’ites” there by “joining the Free Syrian Army (FSA)”, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) earlier today (Jun 20). The 24 year-old was issued with an Order of Detention (OD) under the Internal Security Act (ISA). Khairul’s colleague Mohamad Rizal bin Wahid was issued with a Restriction Order (RO) for “supporting” his “intentions” added MHA. Rizal is 36 years-old.

Khairul’s duties in Traffic Enforcement Division did not require him to be armed. Rizal, however, was an armed officer who conducted general security duties. “Rizal did not share Khairul’s desire to participate in armed violence”, said MHA. Both were deployed at Woodlands checkpoint.

An OD allows the G to detain Khairul without an open court trial for up to two years. The order can be “extended for a further period or periods not exceeding two years at a time”, as stipulated by the ISA. Under the RO, Rizal will not be allowed to change his residence and employment, or travel abroad without the prior approval of the Director of the Internal Security Division. He will also have to undergo compulsory religious counselling. It is not clear what Rizal’s job status is currently.* Khairul and Rizal were fired from AETOS on Jun 1. 

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Khairul’s radicalisation began online in 2012. He wanted to know more about the conflict in Syria after reading about it on mainstream media.

Said MHA: “He developed the view that the conflict in Syria was a sectarian struggle between Sunni Islam and Shi’ite Islam, and being a Sunni Muslim, he wanted to fight against the Shi’ites in Syria.”

Khairul saw the Syrian conflict as a “holy war” and he was prepared to die fighting in a bid to “receive divine rewards”, added MHA. So he planned to join the FSA, a group that aims to overthrow the “Syrian government led by President Bashar Al-Assad, who is backed by the minority Shi’ite Alawite sect”. In 2014, he “tried to reach out” to a foreign militant and “two other individuals whom he believed to be FSA supporters”, to figure out how to reach Syria.

Rizal had known about Khairul’s intentions since 2015 when Khairul confided in him. But Rizal did not report his colleague to AETOS management and instead “suggested to Khairul various ways to get to Syria and to die there as a ‘martyr’.”

“As an Auxiliary Police Officer, [Rizal] should have been aware of the prevailing terrorism threat and his failure to dissuade Khairul and report him to his superior officer was a serious lapse of judgment,” MHA said.

But Rizal was not the only one who knew of Khairul’s intentions. “Several relatives and friends knew of his intention to fight in Syria, but none of them came forward.” It’s not clear if MHA will take any actions against them. Neither is it clear if his family knew about his radicalisation.

MHA added that it takes seriously “anyone who supports, promotes, undertakes or makes preparations to undertake armed violence” regardless of where the violence takes place and especially if the individual is a public servant or a uniformed officer. This extends to anyone who “supports or abets another person’s radicalisation or intention to undertake violence”.

Over 457,000 Muslims reside here according to the G’s 2010 population census, the vast majority of whom are Sunni. Globally, up to 13 per cent of Muslims are Shi’ite. There are no firm numbers in Singapore, but a 2009 Pew report estimated less than 1 per cent of Muslims here are Shi’ites. According to a 1988 fatwa (ruling) issued by the Islamic Religious council of Singapore (Muis), Shi’ites are Muslims. The fatwa remains valid to this day.

It’s not clear what Khairul’s thoughts are on the minority Shi’ite community in Singapore. But a TMG investigation in May revealed that Shi’ite-Sunni relations in Singapore could be better. Read more here.

To report concerns about someone who seems to be radicalised, call the Counter-Terrorism Centre hotline at 1800-2626-473 (1800-2626-ISD).

Other ISA arrests since 2016:

On Jun 12, 2017, MHA revealed that it had arrested the first radicalised woman in Singapore. Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari (Izzah) was planning to take her 4 year-old daughter with her to war-torn Syria and marry an ISIS fighter.

On August 19, 2016, MHA said that four self radicalised individuals were arrested for their intention to move to Syria and fight there.

On July 29, 2016, MHA said that Zulfikar Shariff was arrested and detained for joining the hardline Hizbut Tahrir organisation in Australia, among other things like showing support for extremists online.

On May 3, 2016, MHA announced the arrest of eight other Bangladeshis who were planning to overthrow the government in Bangladesh.

On March 16, 2016, four more people were arrested under the ISA. Three of them took part in the sectarian conflict in Yemen, although one of them only did “sentry duties” and “did not fire” said MHA. The fourth was arrested for intending to join Kurdish militia to fight against ISIS in the Middle East.

On January 20, 2016, MHA said that 27 Bangladeshis were arrested in late 2015 for recruitment attempts as well as possessing materials that taught how to kill.

*The MHA update that Khairul and Rizal had lost their jobs on Jun 1 was received after publication.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Deanna Nabilah and Sharanya Pillai

IN A recent salvo against the Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Yang insisted that the last Will of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew is “final and legally-binding”, because it had been granted probate in Oct 6, 2015. Since then the word “probate” has dominated the news, being frequently used by the younger Mr Lee and his sister as a defence of the need to demolish 38 Oxley Road.

But is it impossible to challenge the probate in court? Lawyers TMG spoke to noted that it is possible to mount a challenge, just that there would be significant challenges.

1. What exactly is a grant of probate?

Wills are meant to be relatively straightforward documents, laying out the division of assets of the deceased. But not everything always goes to plan. This is where probate – a court process establishing the validity of a will – comes in handy.

According to lawyer Alyssa Mundo, who focuses on family law at Yeo & Associates, a will may not be fully recognised if it is not properly executed as per the Wills Act – for instance, if “there wasn’t any witness to the will” or the will was not carried out proper. Applying for a grant of probate in such cases would then require the will to be “proved” as valid and accepted as reflective of the deceased’s final wishes.

Corporate litigation lawyer Ronald Wong, from Covenant Chambers, explained that there are two different ways to prove a will in probate applications. The “common form” is a “straightforward application”, while the “solemn form” involves calling on witnesses to testify that the will represents the intentions of the deceased testator, and that the testator had the capacity to make a will.

The latter is an option for Executors of a will who foresee that the validity of the will might be questioned or challenged in future, he noted. If a will is proved by solemn form, this means that it becomes harder to challenge the grant of probate. It is not clear which form of probate was granted for Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s will.

2. Under what circumstances can probate be challenged?

The grant of probate can be revoked or amended if there are “sufficient causes”, according to the Probate and Administrative Act. However, Ms Mundo said that even that would be hard to prove because the “part on ‘sufficient causes’ is not defined in the act [Probate and Administration Act]”. The court also has discretion in such cases.

She added that the courts have, through previous cases, regarded “sufficient causes” as “undue and improper administration in total disregard of the interests of the beneficiaries.” The test is an objective one, which means that the court will evaluate if a reasonable person in the Executor’s position may have acted a certain way.

Some possible grounds for challenging probate include arguing that the will was forged, that the deceased lacked “mental capacity”, or that someone had exercised “undue influence on [the] deceased [such] that he or she was not really operating out of their free will at that time”, Mr Wong noted.

The Wills Act provides a guideline that probate can be challenged up to six months after it is granted. But lawyers interviewed by The Straits Times noted that one can still challenge a probate beyond that time frame, if “special reasons” are provided. (Jun 17) The final decision however, still depends on the discretion of the court.

3. Could conflicts of interest be an issue in this case?

Lawyers TMG spoke to declined to comment on the specifics of the Lee siblings’ dispute. But when asked if getting a relative to draft a will may present a conflict of interest, Mr Wong said that may not necessarily invalidate the will.

“[Beneficiaries] and certain immediate family members of the beneficiaries under the will are not supposed to be witnesses to the will,” he said. “But there is no necessary impairment of the deceased’s intention or will-making power as it were, just because the person drafting the will was a family member of a beneficiary, or there is some so-called potential interest in it.”

“However, a beneficiary or immediate family member of a beneficiary drafting the will may raise suspicious circumstances which make it harder for the party proving the will.”

Ultimately, challenging a probate still “goes back to the question of whether the will reflect the deceased person’s intention, and whether he was under any undue influence, or duress or whatever that impairs that intention”, Mr Wong added.

Much of the Lees’ public spat now centres on who drafted the final will. In his Facebook note, the PM raised suspicions about how the final will was drafted by Stamford Law, as Mrs Lee Suet Fern’s firm was then known. Mr Lee Hsien Yang then shot back neither his wife nor his company were involved in drafting Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s will.

It remains to be seen how this conflict of interest element of the case might play out, as the saga continues to unfold.

 

Updated June 18: The famiLEE affair has been brewing for a while now. Read our articles on the issue:

  1. FamiLEE saga: 10 things from the academic paper “When I’m dead, demolish it” (Jun 18)
  2. FamiLEE saga: Who’s involved (Jun 17)
  3. FamiLEE saga: Is a grant of probate really final? (Jun 17)
  4. FamiLEE saga: Somebody should just sue (Jun 17)
  5. FamiLEE saga: PM Lee’s version of events (Jun 16) 
  6. FamiLEE saga: Let a third party tell all (Jun 16)
  7. FamiLEE saga: The past three days (Jun 16)
  8. FamiLEE saga: How Lee Suet Fern got LWL her inheritance, according to leaked emails (Jun 15)
  9. FamiLEE saga: Singaporeans react with confusion, humour and CSI skills (Jun 15)
  10. FamiLEE saga: From 38 Oxley Road to 1 Parliament Place, not just a family affair (Jun 15)FamiLEE saga: Headlines around the world (Jun 15)
  11. FamiLEE saga: Now about that mysterious ministerial committee (Jun 15)
  12. Not just a famiLEE affair (Jun 14)
  13. Third generation Lee weighs in (Jun 14)“We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him.” (Jun 14)

 

Featured image from Google user Nick Youngson. CC BY-SA 3.0 

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by Bertha Henson

ANOTHER day, a few more missiles thrown. The FamiLEE saga has got technical, moving into the nitty-gritty details of who got involved when and over what in the matter of the last will of the late Lee Kuan Yew.

There are actually a lot more players in this than the three Lee siblings and their family members. Some have said things openly, like Kwa Kim Li who said that she was not involved in the preparation of the final will. Period. And like Morgan Lewis Bockius LLP of Mrs Lee Suet Fern, which said: “[Mrs Lee] will continue to spend a significant amount of time in Singapore as well as travel to Hong Kong, as she already does in support of her strong client relationships there, and as head of our international leadership team.” (Straits Times, Jun 16) Mrs Lee has stepped down from the position as managing partner of its combined practice in Singapore.

It seems that no one wants to take responsibility for that contentious last will. Perhaps, the late Mr Lee’s private secretary, Ms Wong Lin Hoe, will say something too as she was also intimately involved, or at least present, during those hours when the final will was settled on.

What’s the status of the saga now? A stalemate with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong insisting that Mrs Suet Fern was involved and the other side saying not true.

Is the fate of an old house worth such familial discord and national attention? How is this going to end?

Nobody is looking good here.

You can view PM Lee as a bully intent on getting his way or a son trying to do due diligence over his father’s will. What is his end-game? To preserve the house?

You may think that the siblings are making a mountain out of a molehill over the PM’s investigative attempts or that they truly believe their brother to be the tyrant of Singapore. What is their end-game? To demolish the house?

Is the house the be-all and end-all of this saga?

The Lee siblings said they wouldn’t have made things public if they didn’t think their eldest brother had gone too far. And that what can be done unto them can be done unto other mere mortals, although aside from the setting up of a secret ministerial committee, we are left wondering about other persecutorial moves.

They have a point though about the role of the ministerial committee; the Cabinet secretary didn’t go far enough with details. It is important that the G reveals more, or it would be seen as colluding with PM Lee (even though he said he has recused himself) in ‘persecuting’ the siblings.

PM Lee said he didn’t want to make open challenges during the probate hearing because it was essentially a family matter. He might want to change his mind now.

The fact is, the Prime Minister is being rubbished by his own siblings. This is a severe dent on his authority and image. He’s taken people to court for defamation for far less. Of course, the sticking point is that it would look really nasty to take family members to court. But the allegations of abuse of power, dishonesty and lying are too serious to let them go by. Never mind the family connection, the key issue is that he is the Prime Minister and his standing among the people he governs should be a prime consideration. He should practice what his G preaches, that only people of integrity should be in positions of power. He should take steps to defend assassinations to his character.

On the other hand, the two siblings might well do the same since the implication is that they, or at least, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and his wife, had connived to create a will that wasn’t in line with their late father’s intent. It does not matter that PM Lee had not challenged the will during probate. His statutory declaration to the mysterious ministerial committee has been made public and could be viewed as defamatory of the siblings.

Both Mr and Mrs Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling are people of some standing here and they, too, shouldn’t be content to let allegations go by. At least before leaving the country.

Maybe there will be those who do not have confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary. But seriously, where else or who else should mediate in this matter? The other members of Cabinet? The President? An impartial committee of public-spirited citizens?

At least, the public acrimony would be halted in the run-up to a court case and people can get on with living their own lives without witnessing the spectacle.

The other question is whether a court decision would end the squabble once and for all. At the very least, it would determine who was lying. Yes, this would have consequences for both winning and losing party.

To put it bluntly, this would be a case that PM Lee cannot afford to lose. If he wins, then the other side would have to eat humble pie and pipe down. If he loses, this opens a whole can of worms on whether the Prime Minister is a trustworthy man. There might be chaos in the aftermath but what really is the alternative to this? Will everyone shutting up do the trick? Or we all pretend nothing happened?

We should just let the lawyers handle this.

 

Updated June 18: The famiLEE affair has been brewing for a while now. Read our articles on the issue:

  1. FamiLEE saga: 10 things from the academic paper “When I’m dead, demolish it” (Jun 18)
  2. FamiLEE saga: Who’s involved (Jun 17)
  3. FamiLEE saga: Is a grant of probate really final? (Jun 17)
  4. FamiLEE saga: Somebody should just sue (Jun 17)
  5. FamiLEE saga: PM Lee’s version of events (Jun 16) 
  6. FamiLEE saga: Let a third party tell all (Jun 16)
  7. FamiLEE saga: The past three days (Jun 16)
  8. FamiLEE saga: How Lee Suet Fern got LWL her inheritance, according to leaked emails (Jun 15)
  9. FamiLEE saga: Singaporeans react with confusion, humour and CSI skills (Jun 15)
  10. FamiLEE saga: From 38 Oxley Road to 1 Parliament Place, not just a family affair (Jun 15)
  11. FamiLEE saga: Headlines around the world (Jun 15)
  12. FamiLEE saga: Now about that mysterious ministerial committee (Jun 15)
  13. Not just a famiLEE affair (Jun 14)
  14. Third generation Lee weighs in (Jun 14)
  15. “We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him.” (Jun 14)

 

Featured image from Sean Chong.

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For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

 

by Skyler Wang

PERHAPS more than any of the iterations before, this year’s Pink Dot is being afflicted by a series of peculiar developments. One after another, attempts were made by both Pink Dot detractors and the State to curtail the success of the event.

The most recent incident, concerning a Pink Dot advertisement found on an escalator in Cathy Cineleisure, broke just days ago. Members belonging to the Facebook group “We are against Pinkdot in Singapore” heavily criticised Pink Dot organisers for the ad placement, as well as the shopping mall for agreeing to display it. The contention around the ad eventually found its way to the tables of The Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS), which, upon deliberation, came to the conclusion that the ad’s slogan, “Supporting the Freedom to Love”, violated one of the general principles of the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (SCAP) – those of “family values”. According to the authorities, public advertisements should not “downplay the importance of the family as a unit and foundation of society.” They ultimately instructed Cathay to “amend the advertisement”, adding that follow-ups will be made to ensure its compliance.

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Beyond highlighting the State’s limited and inadequate definition of what constitutes a family unit, this incident exemplifies a persistent strategy the Singaporean government uses to quell public dissent—by exerting its influence in the form of policy and legality. In fact, what occupied much of the media attention on Pink Dot prior to this latest episode illuminate this exact pattern. To those unfamiliar with the issue, amendments made to the Public Order Act by the Ministry of Home Affairs in Nov last year imposed a blanket ban on foreign involvement from all future Pink Dot assemblies. There are two ways in which this policy takes shape. One, the State has limited sponsorship rights solely to domestic corporations. Since the inception of Pink Dot in 2009, the event has largely relied on the funding provided by multinational companies such as Google, Facebook and Barclays. When juxtaposed to the collective amount traditionally pledged by foreign enterprises, local sponsorship, although not insignificant, pales by comparison. More specifically, for Pink Dot 2016, only five out of the 18 corporate sponsors were domestic entities. By circumscribing Pink Dot’s fundraising process, the government created artificial barriers that hinder the execution and success of the event.

Aside from restricting sponsorship rights, the new amendments also banned foreigners from showing up at the event itself. Before, a participant’s citizenship status was irrelevant to his or her attendance. Immediately prior to last year’s event, the government imposed sanctions on foreign involvement by prohibiting non-Singaporeans and permanent residents from participating in a demonstration, allowing them only to peacefully observe (holding up placards was still acceptable). According to the most recent amendments, “the law no longer distinguishes between participants and observers, and regards anyone who turns up to the Speakers’ Corner in support of an event to be part of an assembly.” Foreigners, thus, are altogether barred from the Hong Lim Park event on July 1 this year (only Singaporeans and Permanent Residents can be physically present).

In response to media queries on these new circumstances, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued the statement below:

“The Government’s general position has always been that foreign entities should not interfere in our domestic issues, especially political issues or controversial social issues with political overtones. These are political, social or moral choices for Singaporeans to decide for ourselves. LGBT issues are one such example. This is why under the rules governing the use of the Speakers’ Corner, for events like Pink Dot, foreigners are not allowed to organize or speak at the events, or participate in demonstrations.”  

I take issue with several of the State’s claims. First, note that by exclusively highlighting the need to protect political and social issues from foreign interference, the State strategically leaves out economic issues. This reflects the State’s ideology when it comes to managing foreigners, where the relevance of these ‘outsiders’ is confined to their economic contribution. It suggests that foreign talents, labor and investment are encouraged in our country to the extent that they help with our economy, but these entities should not have any further influence beyond that. This not only assumes that the social experiences of foreigners are external to our sociopolitical and cultural makeup, but it simultaneously reinforces the falsehood that foreigners are somehow unaffected by the workings of today’s inequalities. This is highly problematic because the criminalisation of same-sex acts and relationships do not exclusively affect Singaporeans—LGBTQ-identifying foreigners face similar forms of discrimination both at work and in their personal lives. Sometimes, we forget that foreigners who attend an event like Pink Dot may share some of the very same grievances as their Singaporean counterparts. Pink Dot could be as much about standing up for one’s own rights as it is about advancing a particular brand of politics for these non-Singaporeans.

Furthermore, it is important to remind ourselves that social issues have economic consequences. The State likes to use terms like ‘domestic’ or ‘social issues’ to trivialise the effects of certain inequalities, disregarding the fact that these very issues lead to real crevices in one’s material life. For example, and as aforementioned, the criminalisation of homosexuality (a social issue) could prevent LGBTQ individuals from gaining fair access to job opportunities (an economic issue). By failing to recognise same-sex unions (a social issue), same-sex couples are deprived of the same rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples when purchasing public housing (once again, an economic issue). For those LGBTQ-identifying foreigners who desire to naturalise in this country and settle down with their partners, their aspirations may not differ that much from other queer Singaporeans. This universal yearning to belong is what that propels both citizens and non-citizens alike to mobilise.

As sociologists love to say – humans are a product of society, and our thoughts and actions are never independently formulated. When the State claims that there are “political, social or moral choices for Singaporeans to decide for ourselves,” there is an underlying assumption that Singaporeans possess an intrinsically different set of morals from foreigners, and that it is vulnerable to foreign disruption. This assumption, of course, stems from a long-held belief that homosexuality is a western-imported concept that remains incompatible with Asian values or ‘true’ Singaporeanhood. This assumption also situates Singaporean culture as static and ahistorical, and that it somehow contains an essence that is ‘pure’ and non-evolving (even though the greatest irony is that in almost all other aspects of our lives, we have wholeheartedly embraced foreign technologies, cuisines and ways of being). It further suggests the fact that it is almost inherently wrong to be both gay and Singaporean, insofar as these are contradicting and irreconcilable qualities. This is a carefully engineered social narrative that still holds much cultural influence over Singaporean society today, oftentimes used by the older generation to denigrate young LGBTQ Singaporeans for their cosmopolitan and westernised worldviews.

This urgent need to restrict outside influences (“foreigners are not allowed to organize or speak at the events”) is also an unsatisfying explanation for the new changes in law because Singaporeans are leading increasingly interconnected and transnational lives. Democratic ideals travel across the world through mainstream and social media outlets. We lived through the events that led to the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defence of Marriage Act in the US in 2015, just as how we witnessed the Taiwanese’s high court’s ruling that brought same-sex marriage to its legal fruition this May. These historic events do not exist in social vacuums; we hear about them and they have the power to shape how we understand and navigate our world. Moreover, in this day and age, websites such as Netflix and YouTube grant us instant access to content that expose us to the lives of LGBTQs and the sexual activism that is happening all around the world. This global diffusion of narratives, values and knowledge have happened, is happening and will continue to happen, whether the Singapore government likes it or not. Banning foreign speakers and participants from an LGBTQ rights event for the fear that they would transmit un-Singaporean values to its attendees should be the least of the State’s concerns.

Singapore prides itself for being a diverse and multicultural nation, oftentimes flaunting its cosmopolitanism as a means to legitimise its position in the global arena. An international city puts people of all creeds and citizenship into constant social intercourse, facilitating the formation of friendships and partnerships between citizens and non-citizens. Singaporeans befriend and date folks who are non-citizens—this is a social fact that could not get anymore mundane. However, under the new Public Order Act, couples, families and friends with mixed citizenship status will be unable to attend this year’s Pink Dot together. This laboured and politically-motivated effort to separate particular forms of social union poignantly points to the reality that underpins the need for Pink Dot’s existence, where notions of “freedom” and “love” have yet to transcend the rigid boundaries of socially constructed categories such as gender, sexuality and incidentally, citizenship.

To sum up—queer politics in Singapore cannot and will never become a purely Singaporean affair because amidst an increasingly cosmopolitan and global world order, it is impossible to trace and defend what one might call an ‘authentically Singaporean ideal.’ In fact, we need to move away from the pursuit of this false sense of pureness by aspiring to become critically aware global citizens (by balancing values and morals from a wide array of cultures and traditions), rather than the static and non-evolving Singaporean our government so desperately wants us to be.

Besides, take a minute to think about what the State just tried to accomplish—by removing foreign involvements, the governing power, as I believe, ventured into slowing down the momentum of Singapore’s first and only LGBTQ movement. This suggests that the State’s imagination of the average Singaporean is someone who is politically apathetic and unsupportive of, or at best, neutral towards the idea of gay rights (‘without foreigners, the movement would fail’). For galvanised Singaporeans, showing up and mobilising is one of the most powerful ways to overcome such an inadequate conception of themselves.

In addition, the idea that only someone with the right documentation can participate in a social movement is not only fundamentally undemocratic, but it sends a disturbing message to non-Singaporeans living in the nation state—that your voices do not matter, and that you do not get to mess with the status quo. Foreigners who disagree with such a treatment should also find meaningful avenues to express their discontent towards this form of exclusionary politics (e.g. voicing your concerns through both online and offline platforms). Regardless of whether this could lead to a tangible change of heart by the government, getting the conversation going is key.

Perhaps a heartening outcome that emerged amidst all of this controversy is that in just under six weeks, more than 100 Singaporean firms have stepped up and committed financial support for this year’s event, a size twenty times larger than last year’s five. According to The Straits Times’, as of early May, Pink Dot organisers have raised a total of $201,000—surpassing their initial target of $150,000. It is important to remember though, that in a country where 30 per cent of the population is made up of foreigners, most domestic firms have foreign representation. Embedded deep within the backing of Singaporean firms lies the support of their non-Singaporean constituents as well.

Online, many overseas Singaporeans have expressed their intentions to return home to attend this year’s Pink Dot (to make up for some lost numbers). I assume that during their time abroad, many of these overseas Singaporeans would have accumulated new cultural values and understandings of democracy. Perhaps their way of navigating the world resembles more closely to the foreigners residing in our country than those who never left. In the eyes of our government, might these individuals also be unworthy of civic engagement in Singapore?

Ultimately, what matters most for us is that when faced with the State’s repeated attempts at redrawing the contours of the Pink Dot, movement organisers and their allies need to fight to ensure that the integrity of the movement is not lost. How the story develops depends less on the shape or size of this one dot, but how many new ones we can inspire as new and imminent waves of activism await us.

Skyler Wang is a PhD student in Sociology at UC Berkeley. Broadly, Skyler’s research foci include sexualities, culture and the global economy. His interest in the sociology of sexualities was sparked by his personal experiences growing up queer in Singapore. He can be reached here.

 

Featured image from Pink Dot SG’s Facebook page.

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WANTED for robbery, David James Roach may finally be serving time behind bars – but not for the reason one might expect. The suspect in the Standard Chartered bank robbery was sentenced to 14 months in prison for money laundering by a Thailand criminal court yesterday (June 6).

The 28-year-old Canadian was charged for failing to declare cash worth over US$20,000 to the customs – for which he was sentenced to a year in prison. He was sentenced to another year for money laundering and four months for violating the foreign exchange act. The sentences were to run consecutively.

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However, Roach’s sentence was halved because he confessed to those charges. And the Singapore robbery case continues to hang in balance. According to The Bangkok Post, Roach’s lawyer said that his client only confessed to money laundering, and not to the robbery.

Roach has till July 6 to appeal the Thai court’s decision. Meanwhile, he is being held in the Klong Prem Central Prison in Bangkok. He has been in prison for about a year.

It’s been nearly a year since the robbery and now the question is: Will Roach be extradited back to Singapore after his sentence? Thai authorities declined to extradite when they first arrested him.

On July 7 last year, Roach allegedly walked into a StanChart branch in Holland Village, handed the teller a piece of paper which reportedly said “This is a robbery, I have a weapon, give me money, don’t call the police”, and made off with over $30,000. 

On the same day, Roach fled to Bangkok, Thailand. Just two days later, on July 9, he was caught by the Royal Thai Police. But Singapore’s requests for assistance to extradite Roach were rejected by the Thai authorities, as the two countries do not have an extradition treaty. The Attorney General’s Office of Thailand commented that it was “not in a position to consider” extradition, without elaborating.

The Canadian government had then requested the Thai immigration police to deport Roach back to his home country. Singapore also does not have an extradition treaty with Canada.

If found guilty of robbery in a Singapore criminal court, Roach could face up to ten years jail and six strokes of the cane under Section 392 of the Penal Code. If found guilty of possessing a firearm or offensive weapon, he could be jailed for up to three years under the Arms Offences Act and Corrosive and Explosive Substances and Offensive Weapons Act.

He’s now in for 14 months. Maybe that’s just the start of it.

 

Featured image by Najeer Yusof.

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by Bertha Henson

AND so it begins.

From tomorrow (June 1), Malays who want a shot at the presidency can start picking for forms from the Elections Department in Pinsep Street. Be warned that they are pretty lengthy forms, requiring plenty of information, especially from a prospective candidate from the private sector. Data demanded includes the financial performance of the corporation he led over a period of at least three year’s of service.

Also be warned that the applicants who clear the expanded six-member Presidential Elections Committee chaired by Mr Eddie Teo, head of the Public Service Commission, will have their forms made public for all to see. The G has picked up a recommendation made to the Constitutional Commission looking into changes to the presidency last year, that such transparency would have a “salutary effect” on those who think they can fudge their credentials.

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Given that this year’s presidential election is reserved for members of the Malay community, applicants must, after clearing the credentials hurdle, go through a committee to confirm their ethnicity, much like candidates competing in parliamentary elections as members of a Group Representation Constituency. The chairman of the Malay sub-committee is Mr Imran Mohamad, who was the former chairman of the Association of Muslim Professionals.

Details of the technical process were gazetted earlier today, with the election expected in September. President Tony Tan’s term ends on August 31. The G press statement makes no mention of the court challenges that have been filed, including over the concept of a hiatus-triggered reserved presidency.

Another new feature is a statutory declaration by prospective candidates that they have read and understood explanatory material in the nomination paper on the role of the President. You can read it here. This is to prevent a repeat of 2011 presidential election campaign, during which candidates strayed into areas beyond the constitutional role of President.

While not mandatory, applicants will also be asked to voluntarily undertake to conduct their campaign in a “dignified” and “decorous” manner that reflects the office of Head of State.

Yes, even if two or more Malays vie for the post, it will be a very tame election.

Read more on what we wrote about Tan Cheng Bock’s and M Ravi’s legal challenge.

 

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Johannes Tjendro

THE notable thing about Mr M Ravi’s application that the recent amendment to the Elected Presidency (EP) scheme is unconstitutional is that not a single Member of Parliament (MP) raised this point during the two-day debate. Presumably, since they were sitting to discuss changing the Constitution, the thought did not enter their minds.

The closest that anyone got to was Workers’ Party’s Ms Sylvia Lim’s opinion that Parliament should not “arrogate to itself the right to decide such fundamental matters concerning the political system and state power” (Hansard 8 Nov 2016). She further suggested that the constitutional amendment on the Elected Presidency be put to a national referendum instead. She did not, however, provide a clear legal basis as to why a national referendum would make a more appropriate platform than Parliament.

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The Challenge

In a Facebook post dated May 22, Mr Ravi summed up his challenge as claiming that the amended EP scheme deprives citizens of their right to stand for public office. As a matter of fact, Section 45(1) of the Constitution does stipulate categories of people who are disqualified from running for office, such as those who are “declared to be of unsound mind”, “undischarged bankrupts”, or have been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for a term of one year or more, or not less than $2,000.

But Mr Ravi also added that the amended EP scheme discriminates specifically on the ground of ethnicity. He is convinced that this renders the EP scheme amendment unconstitutional.

This places Mr Ravi’s challenge to the amended EP scheme in much broader terms than Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s challenge. Dr Tan objects to the Government’s counting of the five presidential terms that is needed to trigger a reserved election. He contends that the counting of five terms should start with Mr Ong Teng Cheong, who was the first elected president, in 1993, rather than from the term of Mr Wee Kim Wee, the first president vested with the powers of the elected presidency. He was in office when the elected presidency took effect in 1991.

Mr Ravi contends that the reserved presidential election violates Article 12 of the Constitution, which prohibits discrimination against Singapore citizens on the ground “of religion, race, descent, or place of birth in any law or in the appointment to any office or employment under a public authority”.

However, the EP amendment makes it clear in Section 19B(5) that a reserved election cannot be struck down “on the ground of inconsistency with Article 12”. Furthermore, Article 12 provides for exceptions so long as they are “expressly authorised by this Constitution”.

Hence, it does seem that the amended Elected Presidency is precluded from any constitutional challenge. Mr Ravi himself acknowledged this in a live video on Facebook yesterday (May 23): “I know they made one amendment in the Constitution… to exclude the judicial challenge on this.”

When TMG asked him about this, he said that he would address it in his court submission.

The Basic Structure Doctrine: Is Parliament above the Constitution?

Mr Ravi also evoked the Basic Structure Doctrine, which originated from a ruling by the Indian Supreme Court that no constitutional amendment should “destroy the basic structure of the constitution”, with the help of Prof Andrew Harding of National University of Singapore (NUS), who is “a leading scholar in the fields of Asian legal studies and comparative constitutional law”.

It is noteworthy that the first articulation of the Basic Structure Doctrine in Singapore was rejected by the Singapore High Court in Teo Soh Lung v Minister of Home Affairs [1989].

In 1987, Ms Teo was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA), but was subsequently released following a successful judicial review in the Court of Appeal. She was then served with a new detention order signed by the President. A month later, Parliament enacted amendments to the Constitution and ISA. Ms Teo’s counsel argued that the Parliament had retrospectively usurped “judicial power exclusively vested in the judiciary, in breach of the separation of powers”.

Justice F.A. Chua ruled that, on the contrary, if Courts had the power to impose limitations on Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution, they would be “usurping Parliament’s legislative function contrary to Article 58 of the Constitution”. He further held that since Parliament gave the constitution, Parliament could also take it back.

Nevertheless, in 2012, the then Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong delivered a lecture where he conveyed his belief that the Basic Structure Doctrine does apply to the Singapore Constitution. In his notion of the basic structure of the Constitution, he specifically included judicial power and the exercise thereof through judicial review, which is the means by which the courts check the illegality of legislative or executive acts.

Finally, while the High Court is bound by decisions made by the Court of Appeal, a High Court judge is not bound by decisions made by other High Court judges. On this note, he pointed out that the Court of Appeal, which upheld Justice Chua’s ruling, had declined to decide whether the High Court was correct to hold the basic structure doctrine inapplicable.

Ravi’s rant: A puppet President?

Mr Ravi went live on Facebook yesterday (May 23) to talk about his constitutional challenge against the EP scheme. Although his application was that it was unconstitutional for the presidential election to take into account race, he also lambasted other criteria for being unmeritocratic. He said that these criteria include being “wealthy” and having “$500 million or so”, being “well-connected”, and “being in certain institutions”.

He was perhaps referring to the private sector service requirement that says that presidential candidates must have served as the chief executive officer of a company with at least $500 million in shareholders’ equity for a minimum of three years. Alternatively, presidential candidates must fulfill the public sector service requirement.

He also veered into other matters such as the President being “a puppetry role”, especially judged by the fact that the President does not actually have the power to pardon death penalty cases. He recounted that he challenged this in court in 2010 only to find out that the President only has the said power “in theory”, but “in practice, it is actually the cabinet (who has it)”.

In October 2016, Mr Ravi was barred from applying for a practising certificate for two years by the Court of Three Judges — comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, and Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Tay Yong Kwang. The judges said that Mr Ravi, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2006, had conducted himself “deplorably in relation to the judiciary, his clients and the profession as a whole”, including making “baseless, racially-charged allegations”.

Meanwhile, the hearing for Dr Tan’s challenge will likely be held in June, reported The Straits Times.

 

Featured image from Mr M Ravi’s Facebook page.

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AT LEAST 22 people are dead, and over 50 injured after a blast at a concert in the English city of Manchester, where US singer Ariana Grande was performing. British police said that the incident is being treated as a terrorist incident.

According to Reuters, two US government security sources revealed that the incident is strongly suspected to be a suicide bombing. The Islamic State is known to encourage suicide bombers to choose soft targets, including concert venues.

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Chaos ensued at the Manchester Arena, as people scrambled out for safety. One concert-goer told Reuters: “It was a huge explosion — you could feel it in your chest. It was chaotic. Everybody was running and screaming and just trying to get out.”

A spokesperson for Ms Grande’s record label said that the singer is “okay”. Ms Grande later tweeted that she was “broken” and did not “have words”.

The blast is reminiscent of the Paris attacks in Nov 2015, where a concert at the Bataclan theatre was one of several targets. Three armed gunmen shot and killed over 90 people at the venue itself.

Britain is now on its second-highest security alert level of “severe”.

-Reuters

 

Featured image is a screen grab from YouTube

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HACKERS are having a great weekend, with the recent spate of cyber attacks. At home, concerns over internet security hit a new high when the the Ministry of Education revealed that the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University were targets in a “sophisticated” cyber attack last month.

And in the rest of the world, a major cyberattack on Friday (May 12) hit schools, companies and even hospitals in over 70 countries. The choice of weapon? A ransomware tool called “WannaCry”, that locks people out of their computers unless they pay up.

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More worryingly, experts suspect that the hacker group behind the attacks, the sinister-sounding “Shadow Brokers”, was using software stolen from the National Security Agency (NSA) in the US. We look at some of the countries affected, alongside other developments in the hacking world:

1. London, UK: Healthcare calls in sick

NHS Ambulance, United Kingdom. Image by Flickr user Lee Haywood.

British hospitals affected by “Wannacry” were forced to divert patients needing emergency treatment to other neighbouring hospitals. Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May said this was not a targeted attack at the National Health Service. “It’s an international attack and a number of countries and organisations have been affected,” she said in response to the cyber attacks. More than 40 hospitals and health facilities reported that they had been hit by the virus on Friday.

The attack had affected X-ray imaging systems, pathology test results, phone systems and patient administration systems. Doctors warned that this attack, the biggest in The National Health Service (NHS) history, could cost lives. Important information, medical records, and patient details could be lost if hackers delete the files. On Friday, doctors and nurses were left to treat patients without access to their medical files. Some patients had their operations cancelled. However in a statement, the NHS said, “At this stage we do not have any evidence that patient data has been accessed. We will continue to work with affected organisations to confirm this.”

The scale of the attacks on NHS raised questions about the security of its systems. Cyber experts said that this was because some health care organisations were using obsolete systems, while others failed to update their software.

2. Madrid, Spain: Phone companies stay on hold

Telefonica building, Madrid, Spain, Image by Federico Jorda.

Victims of the “Wannacry” virus in Spain included Telefonica, the nation’s biggest telecommunications firm, power company Iberdrola and utility Gas Natural. Spain’s government warned organisations of a possible cyber attack on Friday. Some organisations took precautionary measures as a result.

It is not clear how many Spanish organisations were affected by the attack. Telefonica said that the attack was limited to some of its employee’s computers on an internal network and did not affect its clients or services. After the attack on Friday, Telefonica switched off all the computers in its Madrid headquarters, and staff were told to shut down their workstations.

The Spanish government said in a statement that, “The cyber attack had not affected the provision of the companies’ services or the operation of their networks and the national cybersecurity institute was working to resolve it as soon as possible.”

3. Moscow, Russia: “We’re victims too!”

Palace Square, Hermitage, Saint Petersburg, Russia. Image by Flickr user Ninara.

When news of the cyberattacks broke, heads immediately turned to the Kremlin, which is facing allegations of using hackers to influence elections in the US and France. Russia was quick to assert that it wasn’t the criminal here, but a fellow victim.

Experts assessing the damage so far have concluded that Russia is the worst hit, followed by Ukraine and Taiwan. The Russian Interior Ministry confirmed that 1000 of its computers were hit, although its servers were unharmed.

But suspicions still abound, with pundits pointing out the possible links between the Shadow Brokers and Russia. Last year, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted out suspicions that the hacker group is backed by the Kremlin. Guess it all adds to the palace intrigue.

Edward Snowden tweets on links between the cyberattack and the Kremlin. Image from twitter.

4. Washington, DC, US: The Russian plot thickens

Former FBI Director James Comey and Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates at a briefing in 2016. Image by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Public Domain Mark 1.0.

Other than the PR disaster that the NSA now faces, the US has emerged relatively unscathed from the cyber attacks. International courier FedEx reported that it is “experiencing interference” due to the attacks, but did not provide any further assessment.

The Americans, meanwhile, are preoccupied with the allegations of Russian hacking into the presidential elections. While President Trump has ousted FBI director James Comey off his back for now, he faces even more pressure to find a new FBI director – will the new head continue the investigations?

And a fresh set of revelations suggest that there is precedent for Russian meddling in US elections. A new report alleges that the Russians attempted to hack the US election as far back as 2007, targeting Barack Obama’s campaign managers. Maybe the Russian hackers were there all along, just that no one noticed them?

5. Paris, France: What doesn’t kill you

Ensemble la France! Emmanuel Macron campaign poster, Paris, Image by Lorie Shuall.

Hackers prey on flaws in cyber security, but they can’t attack your psychological defences, as the French have proven. Right before the end of campaigning, hackers dumped frontrunner Mr Emmanuel Macron’s emails and financing documents online – in a eerie echo of the cyber attack on Mrs Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Once again, fingers pointed at Russia.

But unlike the US, France acted quickly the control the fallout. The election commission warned the press against republishing the information during the “quiet” period when candidates are not allowed to campaign. Some commentators think the US should emulate the French system of having a cool-off period.

And as satirist Andy Borowitz put it, the “French annoyingly retain (the) right to claim intellectual superiority over Americans.”

 

Featured image by Flickr user World’s Direction.

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by Bertha Henson

I AM glad that Dr Tan Cheng Bock applied to the courts for a decision on whether the G’s calculations on when to call a reserved presidential election is constitutional. After a quick burst through Parliament albeit after six months of deliberation by a constitutional commission, the judiciary will now have a look at the trigger mechanism.

This is a contentious portion, couched by the G as a way to preserve minority representation but seen by Dr Tan’s fans as a way to keep him out of the coming contest. This is due in September, so it’s likely that the courts will move fast and make a speedy decision.

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Opposition MPs who have raised questions about the timing of reserved elections during the debate on the changes to the presidency have been given short shrift. The G’s tactic was to turn the guns on the MPs, suggesting that they were impugning the office of its top lawyer by asking for more details on how he came to the conclusion that Singapore was now in its fifth presidential term without a Malay president.

The Attorney-General (AG) had dated the start with the late Dr Wee Kim Wee’s exercise of an elected president’s powers. Detractors like Dr Tan argued that Mr Wee was an appointed president who took on the expanded powers because the changes to Constitution were made during his term of office in 1991. Dr Tan, himself a former presidential candidate, argued that the count should begin with the term of the late Mr Ong Teng Cheong, who won the first presidential election.

Clearly, this is not a topic that the G wishes to engage anyone on. The Ministry of Communications and Information gave a terse reply to Dr Tan’s press conference which he had called on March 31 to contest this point. He did not raise any new points, it said.

Truth to tell, people raise old points all the time and it is probably good politics to respond to them because politics is about persuading people to your point of view, even if you have to do it for the umpteenth time. Dr Tan’s misgivings are shared, at least by this writer. To have race thrown into the political mix after such a long silence is puzzling enough. To activate the mechanism immediately looks like too much haste.

It isn’t apparent that the Malay community welcomes its coming shot at the office. In my view, it wouldn’t hurt to have an open election for the next president to test the assumption that minority candidates wouldn’t be elected, that is, if the Malay community is able to forward an able and willing person to try for the job. But that is only my view, and not a legal view. The AG doubtless would have legal arguments on his side which we have yet to hear.

Dr Tan’s application allows the issue to be raised, albeit in a different forum, so that laymen like me will have the satisfaction of seeing all points of views canvassed.

I find it intriguing that the application is about how the new clause in the Presidential Elections Act might not be consistent with new amendments to the Constitution which allow for reserved elections. So is this a drafting problem rather than a fundamental one?

It’s not too far of a stretch to say that there is plenty of cynicism over parliamentary proceedings, especially the speedy passage of legislation. The People’s Action Party’s stranglehold over Parliament is one reason for the “efficiency’’. But even in the days of still fewer opposition MPs, parliamentary select committees were formed to scrutinise important legislation. No such committee has been set up for years.

Are backbenchers up to the job of debating the G which would have its battery of civil servants, including the AG, giving advice? I have always wondered about the work of Government Parliamentary Committees that are supposed to specialise in fields of government and hence be better informed for debates. The media gives GPC leaders the privilege of naming them as such when they speak up but what do these GPCs actually do? Do they convene meetings or meet their resource panels (if any) to discuss forthcoming legislation?

The opposition MPs are supposed to check the G – or that’s what they say about the role. To give them credit, they do ask some pointed questions, but they seem incapable of coming up with coherent alternatives; witness the Workers’ Party’s (WP) lame proposal to replace the elected presidency. Nor did they advance any further on the queries they raised regarding a reserved election. End of debate. Bill passed. Business ended.

Save the WP MPs, nobody seems too bothered by the decision that the first elected president is different from the first president to exercise the power of an elected president. This must be because they agree with the G, even though this is only based on the AG’s say-so.

So someone outside Parliament decided to turn to the third arm of the State: the judiciary. Obviously, Dr Tan did not raise a frivolous piece of litigation since the court has accepted the application and even set a date for a meeting. His argument makes sense to the layman: those long in the tooth will remember voting for the late Mr Ong Teng Cheong and I daresay no one will ever refer to Mr Wee as “the first president to exercise the powers of an elected president”. To most, Mr Ong was the first elected President. Period.

You might say that Dr Tan has a vested interest in getting the timings changed so that he can throw his hat into the ring. He had said, after all, that he would be contesting, but that was before the changes to the legislation. (Read more about it here) But even if he succeeds in his court application, it is no longer a walk through the presidential park for aspiring candidates of any race. Dr Tan, for example, might not be able to meet expanded criteria on corporate experience.

His legal challenge, whether motivated by self or public interest, is a welcomed one. Let the AG speak. Let Dr Tan’s lawyers speak. Let learned eyes look over the legislation. The judiciary is after all another avenue of check and balances. We deserve more explanation and elucidation, whatever the final outcome of the application.

 

Featured image by Wikimedia user Kok Leng Yeo. CC-BY-2.0.

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