A police state for all to see

9 May 2002

As a casual observer of events outside the Istana on May 1 involving leaders of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and the police, I couldn’t help but wonder whether I’m living in a police state.

It all started at 12.20 pm when Dr Chee Soon Juan, accompanied by Mr Gandhi Ambalam, arrived at the scene where men in blue overwhelmingly outnumbered those in civvies, mostly reporters and cameramen from local and foreign media and of course men and women from Singapore’s intelligence, the Internal Security Department.

Scores of reporters with tape recorders and cameramen in tow zeroed in on Dr Chee. “What’s it that you are going to speak on?” A reporter was clearly heard asking while the SDP leader was seen surveying the place for the scheduled exhibition on the plight of Singapore workers to be followed by the rally at 2.00pm.

Dr Chee, already swarmed by reporters, said since it was May Day, an auspicious occasion for workers throughout the world, he would be highlighting the plight of ‘our workers’. More questions followed, but Dr Chee told the reporters to wait till the rally began.

Noticing all this from a distance, Acting Deputy Superintendent of Police Lim (can’t remember his full name), moved in followed by a couple of uniformed policemen. The guy was visibly trembling and words refused to come out from his mouth. Plucking up enough courage, the DSP recited the Public Entertainment and Meetings Act and told Dr Chee that he should leave the place immediately.

Dr Chee thanked the officer for the reminder. DSP Lim then repeated his order. Then a voice from another police officer was heard loud and clear: “Is he refusing to leave? Then move in and take him.” With clock-work precision, almost a dozen men in uniform moved in and grabbed Dr Chee by his arms and marched him towards a parked police van a few meters away.

Seeing all this, Mr Gandhi, spoke up in a voice few decibels higher for the people to hear: “We are peaceful and non-violent!” Soon, the same plain-clothed officer who had earlier ordered the arrest of Dr Chee yelled: “Take him in. He is also part of it.” Immediately, Mr Gandhi was also brought into the dragnet.

As both Dr Chee and Mr Gandhi were led towards the parked vehicle under police cordon, reporters and cameramen were prevented from getting closer.

A few voices from the crowd, including one wanting to know the charge under which the men had been detained, were heard as the two were bundled into the van to be driven out of sight from the curious onlookers at the entrance to the Istana.

Soon, there was a heavy downpour as if the heaven was weeping for the two who had stood their ground for their beliefs. I then headed towards Plaza Singapura, the departmental store building next to the Istana.

As I hurried to avoid getting wet, I couldn’t stop wondering the excessive display of force by our men in blue who are supposed to carry out their duties “without fear or favour”. Who’s it that they are trying to favour in this instance?

A casual observer

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