ADPAN condemns Singapore’s use of police harassment in curbing public scrutiny of the judiciary and discussions of court cases

15 March 2020

ADPAN condemns Singapore’s use of police harassment in curbing public scrutiny of the judiciary and discussions of court cases

The Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) stands in solidarity with Singapore’s human rights lawyer Mr M Ravi, the Chief Editor of The Online Citizen (TOC) Mr Terry Xu, TOC writer Ms Danisha Hakeem and Mr Mohan Rajangam, all of who are currently under investigation for possible contempt of Court under Section 3(1)(b) of the state’s Administration of Justice (Protection) Act.

It was reported in media articles that police, acting under the authorisation of the Attorney-General, raided the office of Mr Ravi and the home of Mr Xu, seizing their mobile devices and computers. Mr Xu was held at Cantonment Police Station for questioning by the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) for about 7 hours on Friday 13 March 2020.

It appears that the investigation commenced after some articles were published by The Online Citizen questioning the role of the Singapore State Court in Mr Mohan’s extradition to Malaysia. It has been reported that Mr Mohan was arrested on 21 March 2015 and extradited to Malaysia following the endorsement of a Malaysian arrest warrant by a magistrate in Singapore, for an offence that he maintains he did not commit. He reportedly spent four months in custody before being released by Malaysian authorities without charge.

ADPAN holds strong to the view that public institutions must be transparent in order to be accountable, including being open to scrutiny and review.  Public questioning or discussion regarding court cases ought not automatically be considered ‘prejudicing or interfering’ with court proceedings. Judicial officers have a duty to act independently from pressure from the public, media or the Executive.

The use of police powers that have the effect of unduly harassing individuals who publicly express their opinions or discusses such matters, including the seizure of mobile devices and computers and extended police questioning send the wrong message to the public in the exercise of legitimate dissent on government policies and actions. Rather, we strongly recommend the use of public platforms for the Government or institutions to clarify matters that impact on society including outcomes arising from the country’s justice system.

For more information:

State Court loses notes of evidence in regards to the transfer of Mohan Rajangam to Malaysian authorities – https://www.theonlinecitizen.com/2020/03/04/state-court-loses-notes-of-evidence-in-regards-to-transfer-of-mohan-rajangam-to-malaysian-authorities/

TOC editor, lawyer M Ravi among 4 investigated for contempt of court – https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/toc-editor-lawyer-m-ravi-among-4-investigated-contempt-court?fbclid=IwAR1hhF8SjHFlbe_wKAXSOxCkKubhKSXVlJAdoQ6Y0Kg0NL8i3fAAViYybHI

TOC editor and lawyer being investigated for prejudicing ongoing court proceedings – https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-crime/toc-editor-and-lawyer-being-investigated-for-prejudicing-ongoing-court

 

 

Singapore – High Court dismisses M’sian death row prisoners’ application for stay of execution, protection order for former SPS officer

Related post:
Singapore must stop targeting HR defenders and media(Malaysiakini)
37 groups say Singapore Must Stop Targeting HR Defenders and Media that Highlight Injustice and Wrongdoings

High Court dismisses M’sian death row prisoners’ application for stay of execution, protection order for former SPS officer

Datchinamurthy s/o Kataiah and Gobi s/o Avedian’s Singapore lawyer M Ravi said on Fri (14 Feb) that his clients will be bringing their case to the Court of Appeal

The High Court on Thu (14 Feb) dismissed the application of two Malaysian death row prisoners to halt their execution and for the court to grant a mandatory protection order for a former Singapore Prison Services (SPS) officer who is willing to testify regarding their case.

Judge Valerie Thean, in setting aside the application, reasoned that media reports such as the statement made by Malaysian human rights group Lawyers For Liberty — which Datchinamurthy s/o Kataiah and Gobi s/o Avedian had relied upon in an affidavit — “are not reliable evidence” to be used in judicial proceedings.

Touching on the application for the mandatory order for the former SPS officer against civil and criminal liability the A-G and the Home Affairs Minister, the judge noted that Mr M Ravi had accepted “in his written submissions that the court cannot compel the Minister or the AG not to prefer charges”, but to instead compel them to consider using their discretion to grant immunity

“I note that the AG has exercised his discretion,” she said, adding that there is “no basis in law to impose a duty on the Minister” to consider granting immunity in such a way.

In a copy of the application, filed on 28 Jan and seen by TOC the next day, the two Malaysian detainees sought a stay of execution on the basis that there is “an imminent risk” of undergoing execution that is not “in accordance with law” should the recent allegations of brutality in judicial executions be true.

The mandatory protection order for the former SPS officer against criminal and civil liabilities, according to the document, was sought by the plaintiffs “to enable him to provide the necessary information” in support of their application.

Mr Datchinamurthy and Mr Gobi were convicted on drug trafficking charges separately, and were sentenced to death in 2015 and 2018 respectively.

M’sian death row prisoners’ application “a clear case of abuse of process”, allegations based on “hearsay”: A-G’s representatives

In calling for the dismissal of Mr Gobi and Mr Datchinamurthy’s application, Deputy Senior State Counsel Wong Woon Kwong argued that the mandatory order sought by the two death row prisoners for the former SPS officer is “fundamentally flawed”.

Citing Borissik Svetlana v Urban Redevelopment Authority — in which it was decided “unequivocally” that the Court “cannot, by mandatory order, direct any public body or anybody else” to “perform their duty” in a certain manner — the A-G’s representatives argued that “the AG’s discretion should not be unduly fettered”.

The death row prisoners, they argued, at most had the right to seek a mandatory order for the A-G to consider granting immunity to the former SPS officer, not a mandatory order to compel the Court to instruct the A-G to grant such an order.

Touching on the A-G’s decision to not grant the former SPS officer immunity, the A-G’s representatives said: “The Applicants have not shown how the decision not to grant immunity would directly contravene their constitutional rights, or why immunity is necessary in this situation apart from the fact that the former SPS officer just wants it.”

The A-G’s representatives also argued that Mr Gobi and Mr Datchinamurthy had failed to exhaust all legal means available to them prior to seeking the mandatory protection order for the former SPS officer, as the two death row prisoners “had never approached the AG or the Minister to grant such immunity” to said officer.

“The AG’s decision not to grant immunity was only made after proceedings were commenced,” said the A-G’s representatives.

 

The A-G’s representatives also reiterated the Government’s stance that contrary to the allegations made in Mr Datchinamurthy’s affidavit in the application, all judicial executions are “conducted in the presence of, amongst others, the superintendent of the prison and a medical officer of the prison”.

They added that “a Coroner is required to conduct an inquiry within 24 hours after an execution to satisfy himself that the execution was carried out duly and properly”, adding that “any impropriety would have been seen or discovered by these parties”.

Calling the allegations “patently false and scandalous”, the A-G’s representatives argued that the allegations were based on “hearsay”, which is contrary to what an affidavit should contain — namely facts that the person giving the affidavit is able to prove based on his own knowledge.

The A-G’s representatives also added that Mr Gobi and Mr Datchinamurthy have not been able to refute the evidence given by SPS Deputy Assistant Commissioner See Hoe Kiat.

Mr See, claimed the A-G’s representatives, said “in no uncertain terms” that “the SPS has never carried out the training, or given, instructions” on the alleged procedure when the rope breaks.

The Deputy Assistant Commissioner also confirmed that “the rope used in judicial executions has never broken before”, which was not refuted by Mr Gobi and Mr Datchinamurthy, according to the A-G’s representatives.

Additionally, the A-G also claimed that the former SPS officer has yet to come forward to give his statement to the police, which “betrays the fact that his allegations (if in fact they were made) are false”, particularly when a person can be prosecuted for giving a false statement to the police.

The death row prisoners’ application, said the A-G’s representatives, was founded on “unsubstantiated allegations made by a foreign organisation which has aggressively and publicly campaigned against the death penalty in Singapore”, and thus should have never been filed.

“In doing so, it has made false and scandalous allegations against the Singapore Government and the Singapore Judiciary,” they argued.

The A-G’s representatives branded Mr Gobi and Mr Datchinamurthy’s application as “a clear case of an abuse of process”.

“The leave requirement was intended to deal precisely with applications like this, by filtering out groundless cases at an early stage to prevent waste of judicial time and to protect public bodies from unnecessary harassment,” they said.

Gobi s/o Avedian and Datchinamurthy s/o Kataiah to appeal against High Court decision: Lawyer M Ravi

Mr Gobi and Mr Datchinamurthy’s Singapore counsel M Ravi on Fri (14 Feb) said that his clients will be appealing against the High Court decision to the Court of Appeal.

Their appeals to the Court of Appeal is being scheduled to be heard in the week of 23rd Mar, and are being expedited, according to Mr M Ravi.

The lawyer said that the appeals focus on “the right of access to justice without any interference into lawyer’s representation”, which is “tantamount to the right of fair hearing being affected” as a result of “any threat to independent legal representation”.

“I had submitted in court that it stemmed from the Attorney General’s confirmation of the express reservation of the government’s rights against me personally.

“It was stated by the AGC that the government was keeping open a full range of possible options that it might avail itself in relation to my conduct in the case,” said Mr M Ravi, in reference to a statement made by Deputy Senior State Counsel Wong Woon Kwong at a pre-trial conference on 4 Feb.

“I had addressed the court that this is an implied threat and undermines the Law Society’s mission statement that calls for an independent, effective and competent legal profession which is fundamental to the upholding of the rule of law,” said Mr M Ravi.

Judge Thean on Fri in her judgement said that she “could not see any basis for concluding that Mr Ravi would have felt threatened in any way, or that it would have been reasonable for him to do so”, as Mr Wong “was merely communicating a position that should be familiar to all lawyers”.

Mr Wong’s statement, she added, “served as a salutary reminder to Mr Ravi that he should conduct himself appropriately and in accordance with the standards expected of all counsel as officers of the court”.

Mr M Ravi in a statement on Fri also revealed that Wong SC had applied to the court to “impose cost orders personally” against him. The hearing of this application is expected to be held in early March.

Families of Mr Gobi and Mr Datchinamurthy decided on bringing their case to the Court of Appeal “to know the honest, open, transparent answer for these death row inmates”: Pannir Selvam Pranthaman’s sister Angelia Pranthaman

The sister of another Malaysian death row prisoner in Singapore told TOC after the hearing on Thu that the families of Mr Gobi and Mr Datchinamurthy have decided to bring the case to the Court of Appeal as they “want to know the honest, open, transparent answer for these death row inmates”.

“This is dealing with life. This is important … This is not a joke. So we want to push it to the extent that we can to the Court of Appeal,” said Angelia Pranthaman, the younger sister of Pannir Selvam Pranthaman.

“We will not leave it [the case] here hanging – we will try our best until the end to get the justice that the death row inmates needed,” she stressed.

“This is dealing with life. This is important … This is not a joke. So we want to push it to the extent that we can to the Court of Appeal,” she said.

Mr Pannir, who was convicted of drug trafficking, was granted a stay of execution in May last year. However, a procedural application he made was dismissed by the High Court in Jul the same year.

Following that, the family of Mr Pannir — alongside the families of other Malaysian death row prisoners in Changi Prison, and activists from human rights organisations including Lawyers for Liberty and Amnesty International — submitted a memorandum to President Halimah Yacob in a bid to appeal for clemency for Mr Gobi and Mr Datchinamurthy.

The memorandum called upon Mdm Halimah and the Government of Singapore to reconsider the death penalty, particularly against drug mules “while the drug kingpins and traffickers are still at large”.

“We hope that you, Madam President, and the Government of Singapore would take a moment to reconsider the death penalty. It has proven not to be an effective deterrent and will not improve crime rates or trends in Singapore,” the memorandum read.

Touching on Mr M Ravi’s handling of his clients’ case, Ms Angelia said: “All this while, nobody came forward for these type of issues … He didn’t take a single cent from us families. He is voluntarily doing this.”

When asked on the families’ view regarding the allegations concerning the purported brutal execution method in Changi Prison, Ms Angelia said that the families believe that such executions might have taken place before, because “Singapore has never been transparent at all on what is happening [regarding judicial executions]”.

“Let’s say Singapore has previously mentioned that the number of executions is such and such … We might believe then that the rope-breaking never happened. But Singapore has never been transparent. So this leads to more doubt as to whether it has never happened,” she said.

Earlier on Wed (12 Feb), the High Court dismissed Mr Pannir’s challenge against the rejection of his clemency plea.

His lawyer Too Xing Ji told The Straits Times that Mr Pannir will be making an appeal against the High Court’s decision. Mr Pannir has also subsequently applied for leave to commence judicial review proceedings. – The Online Citizen, 14/2/2020

Singapore must stop targeting HR defenders and media(Malaysiakini)

This was a joint statement of 37 groups and 3 individuals, whereby ADPAN was one of co-signatories. It was carried by Malaysiakini, one of popular online media, and also by several other sites. OUR VOICES get to many more people when media reports on our statements. [See earlier post for the earlier statement)
Letter

Singapore must stop targeting HR defenders and media

Aliran et al

Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | We, the 37 undersigned groups and organisations, and three individuals, are appalled by Singapore’s denial and response to the highlighting of alleged “barbaric” unlawful practices in execution method that was highlighted vide a Jan 16 media statement issued by Lawyers for Liberty (LFL).

Singapore claims that it is “untrue, baseless and preposterous”.

We are also shocked by Singapore’s invoking of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma), and the issuing of notices and directions ordering LFL and three parties that have shared the allegations – Singaporean activist Kirsten Han, The Online Citizen website and Yahoo Singapore – to correct the false statements.

To comply with this Pofma Order, Singapore authorities said: “They will be required to carry a correction notice alongside their posts or articles stating that their posts or articles contain falsehoods”.

Non-compliance with the Pofma notice is a crime, and if convicted an individual may be liable to a fine not exceeding S$20,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or both, whereas others will be liable to a fine not exceeding S$500,000.

The notice can also lead to an access blocking order, whereby service providers will have to disable access by end-users in Singapore to the online location.

It is not a defence even if one has applied to the responsible minister to withdraw or vary the order, appealed to court or is “subject to a duty under any written law, any rule of law, any contract or any rule of professional conduct, that prevents the person from complying with the Pofma notice”.

It is deplorable to ask any human rights defender or media agency to publicly take a position that the alleged rights violations and/or injustices that they highlighted or reported on are false or contains falsehood.

Where there is an allegation of a wrongdoing or a crime, it is the duty of a human rights defender or any concerned person to highlight it, and thereafter, it falls on the relevant government, or relevant national, regional or international bodies to conduct the needed independent investigation and determine whether what was alleged was true or baseless.

Note that many investigations may even come to no conclusions due to insufficiency of evidence, and this should in no way lead to the assumption that the allegations were untrue.

A perusal of the LFL statement shows that the source of their information, amongst others, is from a credible source – a Singapore prison officer.

This would reasonably be someone who had first-hand knowledge of what was being alleged.

In the LFL statement, it also mentions that this officer is prepared to come forward and testify at the appropriate forum.

LFL also highlighted this allegation earlier, in its Nov 23, 2019 statement, where it said: “Finally, we’ve also received shocking information relating to the process of execution at Changi prison.

“We have incontrovertible evidence that unlawful and extremely brutal methods are secretly used in carrying out hangings by the Singapore Prison Services. We are prepared to reveal this evidence, supplied by prison officers, in due course.”

LFL, in the Jan 16 statement, also said it had written to the Singapore authorities and informed them it is prepared to meet them and hand over the evidence in its possession.

However, the Singapore government met LFL’s disclosures with deafening silence.

Significantly, the government also did not deny LFL’s allegation of brutality in carrying out hangings, which has been widely reported.

The Singapore government should have rightfully met with LFL, received the evidence and conducted a proper investigation and disclosed its findings.

According to law, police are not supposed to torture detainees, but the fact is that some police officers do torture and even kill those in their custody.

It may not the government’s fault, but the fault of these errant officers who did wrong.

But, if a government, after receiving information of such wrongdoings, chooses to do nothing about it, then it can be said that the government that “covers up” wrongdoings of public servants or simply ignores it may be just as guilty of the said wrongdoings.

The media is obliged to report to the public, and that includes statements and positions of ordinary people and human rights defenders.

Most media outlets, would as a matter of good practice, try to get a response from the alleged perpetrator or other relevant parties but the news ought never be stifled simply because the perpetrators (or interested parties) do not provide an immediate response.

Of course, most media will carry even a late response from the alleged perpetrator or other interested parties.

Obligations imposed on the media should not be the same as those imposed on individuals using social media.

Many good people who share news or views on social media, if they do get a response from alleged perpetrator or interested parties, will also usually share that response with their readership.

In Malaysia, many human rights violations and even crimes that were highlighted by HR Defenders or media were investigated by the government.

As an example, in Malaysia, it was the investigation by the New Straits Times Special Probes Team into the mass killings in Wang Kelian in 2015 that highlighted and suggested a massive, coordinated cover-up.

It revealed the human trafficking death camps had been discovered months earlier, but police only announced the discovery on May 25.

It also questioned why the police ordered the destruction of these camps, which were potential crime scenes before they could be processed by forensics personnel?

The Malaysian government’s response was to investigate this case, and on Jan 16, it was reported that the Home Ministry will present a report by the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on the Wang Kelian human trafficking incident to the Cabinet next week.

Hopefully, thereafter the report will be made public.

Like Malaysia, Singapore too should have conducted a comprehensive investigation on the allegations raised by LFL, and not try to “force” LFL and others who highlighted this issue to publicly admit that it contained falsehood.

Publicly highlighting allegations or facts of wrongdoings, rights violations and injustices today is a means of ensuring that justice is done, for otherwise relevant governments and enforcement authorities can sometimes chose to simply “cover-up” such allegations.

It is wrong for any government to use laws and crimes (with serious penalties) to prevent human rights defenders, media and others from highlighting allegations of wrongdoings.

Such laws that undermine the responsibilities of human rights defenders, including media, ought to be repealed. Freedom of expression, opinion and peaceful assembly ought to be protected.

The courage to highlight possible human rights violations, injustices and wrongdoings should be applauded, not stifled or penalised.

The media reported that the Singapore Minister of Communications and Information had on Jan 23 directed the Infocomm Media Development Authority to get Internet service providers here to block the LFL website for not complying with a correction direction issued under the fake news law.

Therefore, we call on Singapore to:

– immediately and unconditionally withdraw the notice and internet access blocking orders pursuant to Pofma that were directed at LFL, Kristen Han, The Online Citizen, Yahoo Singapore and others.

– ensure an independent and thorough investigation is conducted concerning allegations of unjust and barbaric practices that allegedly happened during the hanging of persons in Singapore.

– respect human rights defenders and media agencies, and not to stifle them from carrying out their responsibility and duty to highlight allegations of human rights violations and injustices.

– abolish the death penalty.


The above is a joint statement from Aliran, Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (Adpan), Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (Afad), Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons from Indian Administered Jammu and Kashmir, Association of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters- HRDP in Myanmar, Asociación de Trabajadoras del Hogar a Domicilio y de Maquila–Atrahdom, Guatemala, Australians Against Capital Punishment, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (Masum), India, Dutch League For Human Rights, Empower Foundation Thailand, Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (Find) – Philippines, German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Global Women’s Strike United Kingdom, Japan Innocence and Death Penalty Information Center, Karapatan Alliance Philippines, LAW United Kingdom, Madpet (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture), Malaysian Trade Union Congress, Manushya Foundation Thailand, MAP Foundation (Migrant Assistance Program) Thailand, North-South Initiative, Odhikar Bangladesh, Payday Men’s Network United Kingdom. Persatuan Komuniti Prihatin Selangor dan Kuala Lumpur, Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (Pacti) India, People’s Empowerment Foundation Thailand, Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia), Singapore Anti Death Penalty Campaign, Suaram Malaysia, Terai Human Rights Defenders Alliance Nepal, The Advocates for Human Rights, The Day of the Endangered Lawyer Foundation, The Julian Wagner Memorial Fund Australia, Union for Civil Liberty Thailand, Workers Assistance Center Inc Philippines, World Coalition Against the Death Penalty/ Coalition mondiale contre la peine de mort, WH4C (Workers Hub For Change), Vucong, Giao (School of Law, Vietnam National University Hanoi), N Jayaram  (Journalist, Bangalore) and Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman (human rights defender from Bangladesh, in Hong Kong) – Malaysiakini, 2/2/2020