Reports of arbitrary and unjust behaviour on the part of the authorities investigating Singapore’s Little India riots have begun to surface in the Indian media. These allegations, made apparently by those deported without trial or due process are harmful to the reputation of Singapore’s police force, yet with no court case and no finding of guilt to present, the claims are almost impossible for the government to refute. Allowing such a situation to develop is a significant mistake as it undermines respect for local law enforcement efforts and could easily have been avoided if due process had in fact been followed. Bypassing the rule of law may have been expedient in the short-term but it is not likely to be in the best interests of anyone in the long-term.
The physical damage inflicted by the recent riots in Singapore’s Little India district may have been cleared up almost immediately, but questions surrounding the official response continue to generate no small amount of heat. The latest flicker of controversy is sparked by allegations published Saturday in the Indian media where one individual deported for supposed involvement in the riots claims his innocence and alleges poor investigatory procedures were followed.
“I was not involved in the riot. Only after the riot was all over, on the 10th of December, the police arrived at my work place and took me away for investigation. Even though I told them I was not involved in the riot, they didn’t listen to me […].
“Tamil speaking officers investigated me. But in the investigation they didn’t listen to whatever we had to say and registered that the riot happened because we were drunk and didn’t know what was happening. They asked us to admit to our crime. I said I was not involved in the riot.
One India. 21 December 2013. Translation from The Online Citizen
These are significant allegations made against the Singapore Police Force. If the individual in question had been found guilty of rioting in a court of law, the claim that “I was not involved in the riot” would be all too easy to dismiss. The claim that no proper investigation was carried out is particularly troubling, not least because PM Lee has staked significant political capital on setting up a committee of enquiry and preventing a repeat of the events of 8 December. If court transcripts could be released detailing the thorough investigatory processes followed which produced compelling evidence of the guilt of the accused, such assertions again would be easy to refute. Without that evidence, such claims now have the likelihood of spreading widely, not least because of the suggestion that investigators had a premeditated intent to find alcohol as the cause of the riots. True or not, that claim unfortunately is likely to resonate with many who already see as hasty and superficial a government response to the riots which has focussed on alcohol consumption rather than any more introspective analysis
The fallout from these allegations is likely to be minimal for now. Although the claims are troubling and hard to refute, they are equally hard to verify. Singapore has a strong track record on getting foreign media to retract or clarify harmful stories and it is easy to predict a similar outcome here. However that is not a foregone conclusion. It is precisely because of an absence of justice that we have this void into which harmful allegations can be published. There is nothing to say that further, more serious allegations – possibly even false or outlandish ones – will not crop up. And again, absent any evidence or any finding of guilt, such allegations will be almost impossible to refute, and the damage done to Singapore’s reputation will only worsen.
The decision therefore to pursue “cheap justice” in seeking quick deportations with no finding of guilt appears to have backfired on Singapore’s expensive law minister K Shanmugam and there is little the authorities can now do to present a compelling rebuttal of the allegations made. The concern is that Singapore may ultimately pay a high price for this unfair, unjust but completely avoidable mistake.