Friday, April 2, 2010

When in Singapore, do as Romanians do

When in Singapore, do as Romanians do. Okay, this title has probably little to do with what I'm going to write about, but I kind of like it.

Former Singapore-based Romanian diplomat Silviu Ionsecu may now have 13 charges brought against him, but I doubt he will cooperate. He might, as he already have, suggest this is an elaborate scam to get him, but it appears that the state coroner and perhaps every relevant government body has made the extra effort to be sensitive, respectful and transparent as possible, knowing that international affairs could be soured because of this case.

Singapore, as always, wants to be everybody's friend, and does not seek confrontation. Perhaps most of the energy is directed at our local "dissidents" instead, as we found out about the five leaders and supporters of the Singapore Democratic Party who had their acquittal overturned by the high court judge.

The laws that are put in place for a society reflects the ideals of a society (constitution too, of course). Whatever is outlawed is deemed (sufficiently) harmful to society. Not only has sufficient/significant harm to be established for the law to punish a (to-be)criminal, but also the intent to harm.

I am no lawyer and I do not quite understand how the law on illegal procession is being enforced. The focus appears to be on the manner and intent of "committing" the act itself, rather than investigating whether there was any harm or intent to cause harm, issues that the law was set in place to address.

We have laws in Singapore that water down our constitutional rights. For instance, you have to apply for permits to exercise your constitutional right, and that we have section S377A in the penal code that discriminates against the right to have adult consensual homosexual sex.

The "procession", or walk, of the 5 persons is an exercise of their right, which constitutes no harm to society. Neither have they caused major disruptions nor disturbed the public peace. Superficially, it was harmless. The illegality of processions stem from the potential threat it may cause, so we can think of this law as an attempt to nip the possible problem of public disorder in the bud.

However, it appears the courts are more occupied with the aesthetics of the illegality, which me, as a layperson, do not quite understand. I know they are trying to prove the act of walking together constituted a procession, but surely the illegality of it rests not only on the act itself, but also the intent to cause significant harm.

The manner in which the 5 carried out their "activity" did not constitute harm, so how can they be punished under this law?

I think enforcement can be better if the law on illegal procession could be further clarified. I find this law questionable, because the act of a procession on its on does not inherently constitute harm. It only becomes illegal when there is a disruption to the public order.

What makes the act illegal is probably the absence of a permit. The 5 persons involved did not apply for a permit, but then again, are we trying to convey the message that we need a permit to "break" a law?

I am in need of some enlightenment here.

The Ionescu case and the case of the 5 SDP leaders and supporters show us two sides of public perceptions of our law enforcement. On the one hand, it seems to me we are steadfast and transparent, but not quite persistent enough; on the other, it seems to me we are arguing over small details just to establish the illegality of an act, and not going to the root of the problem that is whether there is significant harm and intent to harm at all.

The Ionescu case dovetails with growing xenophobic sentiment Singaporeans harbour against the "evil" foreigners and foreign talents. It is as if our father has a new wife and now we have younger step-siblings to share our toys with. It has compelled the government to carefully and clearly communicate its stand and policies on Singaporeans, permanent residents and foreigners, often highlighting that Singaporeans will be a priority and always get the better end of the deal. I hope they tell this to the Singaporean elderly rubbish scavengers that pepper the heartlands.

Laws and policies are aimed to primarily protect the people and their interests, which in turn protects the government's interest of peace and continuity (in power), not the other way around. We often see the invocation of laws and policies, and their enforcement, against a few known persons and groups who challenge the ruling party.

With Ionescu, bodies have been hurt and a life has been lost, apart from traffic violations and other legal transgressions. Take traffic violation for instance. Traffic rules are there to ensure safety and without them, people can get hurt, and private and public property can be damaged in an accident. Traffic rules also serve as regulation of traffic flow, because there are economic implications if this regulation is poor.

Our public funds are directed to the monitoring of state-identified dissidents, otherwise how can on-the-ground enforcement be so swift? Yes, we have alleged "concerned members of the public", alleged homeland security spies and agents, and vigilant officers of law enforcement who have monitored and reported on their movement. What a waste of public funds. Furthermore, surely these advocates of democracy are non-violent and have no intent on bloodshed.

And speaking of public funds being used for law enforcement, we did little to prevent Ionescu from leaving the country. He has blood on his hands (on hindsight, to be fair) and he still managed to leave Singapore.

I don't know what to say. What is fair? What is justice? Maybe within the same geographical space, there are different standards applied when a law is broken or appears to be broken. We exercise surveillance on the wrong people, and mind you, money is needed for such surveillance.

I really wonder how to ordinary policemen and policewomen feel when they are being tasked to keep an eye on state-identified political dissidents, when they could actually be doing more meaningful things. The only threat of public disorder would be a flurry of journalists and reporters flocking to the "dissident". Ordinary members of the Singaporean public couldn't care less about them. That is our culture and if a charge of causing public disorder is brought against the "dissident", it shows how the government does not understand Singaporean society. Maybe I'm wrong.

I think some changes need to be made. Our laws should be in place to primarily protect people from harm and that should be the primary justification. Next, enforcement should be consistent, and not only look at the act superficially, but also strive to establish if there was actual harm and intent to cause harm.

For all we know, the demand for change constitutes an illegal act itself. I guess the only legal thing now is to vote.

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