Singapore Activists Arrested, Police Inspector Gaffes

May 1, 2002
Singapore Democrats

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(Think Centre) On an eventful May Day in Singapore, the police arrested Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) leaders Dr Chee Soon Juan and Gandhi Ambalam outside the gates of the Istana. An hour later, Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff, a Fateha.com journalist was detained after disputing attempts by Inspector Selvakumar to drive SDP supporters, observers and media personnel out of Tanglin Police Division headquarters.

Chee, who is SDP Secretary-general, arrived outside the Istana along with SDP CEC member Gandhi Ambalam with the intention of staging a rally to voice out against the plight of workers in Singapore. Two days earlier, their application to the Public Entertainment Licensing Unit (PELU) was rejected with PELU citing the usual “law and order problems”. Representatives of various media organisations came forward to interview Chee before police approached. The police warned Chee to leave the premises, threatening to arrest him if he refused to comply. Chee replied that he should be allowed to speak and the people should have a chance to listen to what they had to say. After a short stalemate, police officers immediately sprung into action, surrounding him and edging him into a police van nearby. Following that, Gandhi loudly beseeched that Chee be let off as he was only executing his rights, but was instead packed into the same van with press reporters kept almost out of sight from the two men. Leaving girdled by reporters were a tearful Mrs Chee with her daughter in her arms and an infurious Ms Chee Siok Chin, sister of Dr Chee.

Efforts by SDP members and supporters to find out where the two men would be sent to were initially futile with the police officers on standby keeping mum, but they were later informed that they would be sent to the new Tanglin Police Division headquarters along Kampong Java Road.

Arrving at Tanglin an hour later, members of SDP and some activists were promptly chased out of the headquarters premises by a casually dressed Inspector Selvakumar, who to their bewilderment, stated that the group had to leave as the police headquarters as they were “infringing private property”. Despite the drizzle, Inspector Selvakumar told the group that they were only allowed to gather outside the gates of the police headquarters, with the exception of relatives of Chee and Ghandi. A Think Centre cameraman with a camera on his neck was refused entry into the seating area by a junior police officer too.

Fateha.com’s Zulfikar, who was present at the scene to observe the happenings, sought advice from a lawyer and told the group that under legislation, they need not leave the police premises unless they behaved in a disorderly manner. Here, Inspector Selvakumar threatened stern action against any in the group who did not evacuate immediately, saying that he “had a job to do” and was also “obeying instructions from the top”. However, Zulfikar stood firm and continued to reason before being arrested by reinforcements called in.

Moments later, a reporter from Associated Press who had rushed down from the Istana, received the same rough treatment while inquiring into the arrests and the reasons for not being allowed into the police headquarters which was supposed to be a public area. In return, he met with threats by Inspector Selvakumar of a refused entry to an upcoming police press conference by later should he remain at the premises.

Chee and Gandhi are still remanded at Tanglin Police Division. The former faces charges of contravention of the Public Entertainment Act while the latter for disorderly behaviour. Relatives of the two men have waited for more than the referred 20 minutes to hear of an outcome. Zulfikar who is also in detention was arrested for “disorderly behaviour” and now awaits police charges.

In a typical occurrence in a police state, SDP supporters who tried to bring food in for relatives of the two men were stopped by police officers at the gantries, but one was allowed in after much persistence and after a police officer’s consultation with higher authorities. The police have also corrected their earlier gaffe that the premises was “private property”, now asserting it to be “state property”.