By Benjamin Cheah
Among the 57 foreign workers repatriated for allegedly participating in the Little India riots, four of them were originally slated to face criminal charges. While the Attorney-General’s Chambers decided to withdraw the charges against those four, they were deported anyway for being “security threats”.
In a Dec 31 posting on Factually, the government revealed that the police had “identified” the quartet for “failing to disperse” despite orders from the police. This “threatened public order”, making their “continued presence in Singapore undesirable”. Under the Immigration Act, the government need not go through the courts to deport a foreign worker; it need merely find the person “undesirable”.
The government tries to frame this as a security issue, justifying its powers of deportation as beneficial for both Singaporeans and foreigners. On the website, the government said: “If allowed bail, [these foreign workers] would either be free to live within our communities despite being a security threat or, if they cannot afford bail, remain detained in our prisons for a prolonged period to await the conclusion of the court proceedings.”
But it is unclear how the four were “identified” as “security threats”, especially why they “failed to disperse”. If they had wilfully defied police orders, the police could make the case that they were a threat – in which case, they would have been dealt with in court. But if they had failed to disperse because they did not understand police instructions, there is no proof of malicious intent. In which case, there are no grounds for criminal prosecution – and no grounds for assuming they are security threats.
The government claimed “due process” was followed, as the police interviewed over 4,000 workers and investigated 400. In addition, the government said the Indian and Bangladeshi High Commission were given full access to those who were charged and repatriated, and the Committee of Inquiry had met some of them as well.
However, Mr Terry Xu, editor of The Online Citizen, argued the investigations were flawed. Members of TOC went to the Tekka Lane dormitories where Sakthivel Kumaravelu, the worker whose death sparked the riot, came from to ask about how the investigations were conducted.
Xu said workers who were recorded returning to their dorms after 10.30pm on the day of the riot were separated for examination. The police asked them to take off their clothes and inspected them for injuries. Those with injuries were taken away for further questioning, as well as workers who had declared they were at Little India. “Four buses of workers” in all were sent away.
Xu noted that only workers who lived in the dormitories were targeted. “Those workers who lived in company dorm or HDB rental flats, they basically can’t trace them at all.”
“No one really knows why were the 53 asked to be deported and then the 200 warned, given that it is more than a few thousands interviewed,” Xu said. “There is nothing that ties the police’s decision to charge the individuals to their being involved in the riot.”
As criminal and repatriation proceedings mount, some workers are crying foul. Arun Kaliamurthy said he was in the vicinity when the riot broke out. He claimed he left the area immediately, but was later picked up by the police and accused of rioting. He also alleged that he was assaulted while in police custody.
Currently, Kaliamurthy has to report to the police every Friday, stay indoors between 8pm and 6am and keep away from Little India. His passport has been confiscated, his social visiit pass was converted into an S-Pass after he pleaded not guilty and was granted bail. He has to update his S-Pass every morning at 9am at the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.
Kaliamurthy called this practice of updating his S-pass daily “discriminatory”, because “such a requirement is not imposed on others in a similar situation.” He was informed by his lawyer, M Ravi, that this requirement contravenes Article 12 of the Constitution, which prohibits such discrimination.
“I am extremely disappointed with the treatment I have received from a country which prides itself on high standards of justice and equality,” he said.
While due process was technically followed, the police investigation is being cast into doubt. It is unclear how many of the deported foreign workers had definitely participated in the riot. As a result, it is still unclear why the government deems those workers “security threats” — or, indeed, why they were repatriated at all.
The Indian and Bangladeshi High Commissions did not respond to enquiries.