The Singapore Parliament has passed and edited a 1955 law allowing Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam to detain anyone without trial regardless of the offense. The “Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA)” was introduced in 1955 by Lee Kuan Yew to arrest his political opponents and critics, and has been “temporarily renewed” every 5 years since then.
However Law Minister K Shanmugam made a new change this time: allowing him to define any activity he deems necessary to jail without trial. Using a legal loophole to define “Organised Crime Activity”, Minister K Shamugam is now empowered to detain anyone he wants, without a free trial in court. The Singapore law will also be applicable to Singaporeans overseas, believed to be aimed at States Times Review editor Alex Tan.
Opposition MP Sylvia Lim slammed the Law Minister for giving himself totalitarian power and criticised him as “arrogant”:
“The move to define the scope of criminal activities, under the Fourth Schedule, is an attempt to make the Minister (K Shanmugam) all-powerful. Yes, the current Act does not list which kind of activities make a person liable to be detained. But that does not mean the Minister currently has carte blanche to detain anyone he pleases. The Schedule will likely short-circuit the assessment process of cases suitable for detention, and maybe enable the Minister to bypass answering questions such as whether cases are serious enough, or why it’s not possible to prosecute these persons in court. Also, the Bill potentially allows for persons to be detained for alleged activities of more minor nature, now there is a list of defined activities. An entry on the list of offences – participation in or facilitation of an organised crime activity (OCA) – would mean the scope of the CLTPA be expanded to include activities done overseas, or those that may not pose a threat to public order in Singapore. By linking the OCA to the CLTPA – is the new Schedule not expanding the Minister’s powers? This expansion of the kind of activities subject to the Act in effect makes the Minister a global policeman with no equal in the world. This is a position too arrogant for the House to support.”
All 8 Opposition MPs opposed the law in a vote, but they were overwhelmed by the remaining 80 PAP MPs.
Law Minister K Shanmugam dismissed the Opposition MPs’ argument saying they only make “good reading on a website”:
“While these descriptives made for a good reading on a website, it was simply a matter of satisfying two requirements now: one in the interests of public safety, peace and good order, and in addition, its conjunctive – the new listing of offences. It’s not the case that if listed in the Schedule, you can automatically be detained. So how does it increase the powers? Rhetoric has got to match reality, and it’s useful to read clauses carefully before making speeches.”
To which Opposition MP Sylvia Lim retorted then why is there a need to change the law:
“If what the Minister is saying is correct – that the clause is not meant to change anything – then why introduce it at all? Why not leave it at status quo, instead of causing confusion and possible problems down the road about what this clause is meant to cover? The CLTPA has been enforced since 1955 for more than 60 years and no minister has come forward to ask for a finality clause. We find this very troubling…At the same time, we are very mindful of tradeoffs and of giving the Government too much power to detain people without fair trial – as power can always be abused. This is all the more so when dealing with powers to deprive people of their liberty for years.”
Law Minister K Shanmugam then made a sarcastic remark saying the Opposition MP does not know “real world problems” and claimed that Singaporeans accept the loss in freedom:
“It’s possible to make grand statements about liberty and security if you don’t have to deal with real world problems…Our current structure also has a trade-off – society accepts some risk in vesting power in the executive, which we try to reduce with the safeguards. And I have come to accept the path we’ve taken is probably better for Singapore and its society.”