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The arrest of a 70-year-old Singaporean man last week has seen the collision of freedoms expressed under constitutional law with new laws that give police arbitrary powers.
Singapore’s Public Order Bill, introduced in April this year, was invoked for the first time for the arrest of Chua Eng Chwee on Oct. 14.
Chua, a Falun Gong practitioner, was meditating at Esplanade Park near the Suntec Singapore Convention Center—the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) venue—when removed under the move on law.
The move on law allows police to order people to leave a place for up to 24 hours. If they return within that time, as Chua did, they may be arrested.
Chua says he has been meditating in the park for 10 years and he takes the posters because he wants people to know about the persecution of Falun Gong.
“I am doing this because I wish this persecution would end as soon as possible,” Chua said. “I will not do it anymore if the persecution stops.”
Chua said he was arrested after returning to the park to meditate with the posters. The police detained him for more than 12 hours and asked him why he was so determined to display the posters.
“I said I want the world to understand the persecution in China, and not be deceived by all the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) lies, the placards are best for portraying the persecution.” He said he was exercising his constitutional right to freedom of belief.
Falun Gong is a spiritual practice based on the tenets of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
Practitioners highlight the human rights abuses against Falun Gong in China by meditating and showing photos of the persecution in public places around the world. Regime officials often attempt to censor protests near Chinese Embassies and Consulates—when Chinese leaders visit foreign countries, there is often pressure on local police to block the protesters’ efforts.
“I have no intention to disrupt the APEC conference,” said Chua. “They are using the move on order to keep me out of the Esplanade—and Hu Jintao will be visiting the area.”
Singapore’s Minister for Law and Second Minister for Home Affairs, Mr. K. Shanmugam said in April the Public Order Bill was based on Australia’s controversial bill that was passed before their 2007 APEC conference.
“This [APEC] is one of the most important international events of the year and we will do everything to make it succeed,” he said. “This meeting [APEC] is a key reason for introducing the Bill at this stage.”
The Bill, in part, gives power to police to arrest anyone who “demonstrate[s] support for or opposition to the views or actions of any person, group of persons or any government; publicize a cause or campaign, or mark or commemorate any event.”
Chua thinks the law is overly strict. “I feel it’s strange—is this new law aimed at Falun Gong?” he queried. “Now displaying placards is considered assembly, regardless of the number of people. One person also could be consider an assembly, and under the move on law no placards are allowed.”
Amnesty International argues that Singapore often uses the law to achieve political objectives. “Singapore uses a mass of sophisticated laws to penalize critics and control the population, with the result there is a climate of fear throughout the country,” said Margaret John the Malaysia-Singapore coordinator for Amnesty International Canada, in an e-mail.
Arrest of old man was preceded by others
Less than two weeks ago five Falun Gong practitioners were arrested while displaying posters in the same location at Esplanade Park. Now they are worried they could be sent back to China, where they are at risk of torture in custody.
“The Falun Gong have been deprived of their right to freedom of expression in China and therefore an extradition could lead to an unfair trial, arbitrary arrest and detention, risk of torture and other ill-treatment as well as a risk of death in custody,” Amnesty International’s China coordinator Yvonne Christiansen said.
“Singapore should under no circumstances extradite Falun Gong practitioners for these reasons.”
Police handcuffed four of the practitioners on Oct. 5, citing “vandalizing public property” after they put posters expressing their beliefs and showing the persecution on a wall. Three others, who were meditating, were not handcuffed.
Singapore human rights lawyer, Madasamy Ravi, who has defended Falun Gong practitioners in similar cases in the past, said the arrests were unusual. “To handcuff them, and take them in this manner, it is a very fundamental breach of civil liberties,” he said.
“The fact that they have impounded the passports could mean that they have taken it seriously and the likelihood of deportation is there.”
Police were supposed to give a verdict on their cases on Oct. 19, but deferred it until Nov. 2, saying they need to do “further investigation.” They have held onto the passports, according to one of the people involved.