Saturday, June 14, 2008

Singapore. My Arrest

Ladies and Gentlemen,

After I had posted the blogpost of May 29, 2008, at about 9 pm, May 31, 2008, I was arrested by at least 5 plain clothes policemen including at least 2 women. I had just promised Mr. Gandhi Ambalam, Chairman of the Singapore Democrat Party and Mr. Jeffrey George, committee member of the same that I will join them for a drink at a nearby coffee shop. I was appropriately dressed in shorts, T-shirt and slippers, not to offend the Singapore heat and humidity. I entered the elevator on the 8th floor of the hotel and descended to the 1st. When the door opened the aforementioned police were there blocking my way. Among them was Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), Mr. Razak Jakaria, from the Cantonment Police Station, the police station in charge of my arrest.

At the ground floor when the elevator opened with me inside, the said police blocked my way. They showed their police identification. Forcibly restrained me inside the elevator. Handcuffed me while they took me back to the 8th floor into room 708.

Inside my hotel room, while I was in handcuffs, ASP Jakaria produced a warrant for my arrest. He stated that I was arrested under some section of the Singapore statutes. He refused to state what I was being arrested for. This procedure seems highly improper. Telling a citizen that he was being arrested under Section 200 or 2000 of the Penal Code without telling him what that meant is totally ridiculous! Did they expect every citizen to have studied Singapore law and the provisions of the Penal Code! Yet that is exactly what is done in a case where the accused is merely told of a particular section of the Penal Code! Despite my asking what I was being arrested for, I was not told what it was. Jakaria's answer was that he would tell me later. This was no help at all!

I was driven to Cantonment Police Station in a police car. ASP Jakaria was seated next to driver's seat. Next to me was a Chinese policeman. I was in handcuffs.

At the police station, there were usual procedures of taking account of my belongings and storing them. I was ordered to change into prison clothes and taken in handcuffs to a cell. From that moment I was kept in solitary confinement alone in a cell. The light was kept on 24 hours. There was no bed or even a mattress on the floor. I had to sleep on a hard floor. Although it can become cold there was no blanket. Unable to withstand the cold, I began shivering uncontrollably. I asked for a blanket from a passing guard. He provided it. This was on the 3rd or the 4th day of my confinement. Truly, it was not a blanket at all. It was a thin plastic sheet, which was not even long enough even to cover your feet. It did not keep you warm. But anything was better than shivering.

As the floor was solid hard, I could not sleep. Each time I had to toss and turn after a few minutes because it hurt. The light being on 24 hours, you did know it was day or night. Being kept alone in solitary confinement did not help either.

I was kept in this manner from May 31 2008. Since it was a weekend, I had to be kept till Monday morning to be brought to court.

I was kept in this manner till June 5th 2008. Between this period I was taken for interrogation many times on different days before ASP Jakaria. The interrogation was held in interview rooms. Each time I was walked in handcuffs from my cell to the interview room.

I was told that I was being charged for various offenses during this period at various different times. It was as if the police were at a loss what to do. First it was a charge that I had sent an insulting Email to Judge Belinda Ang. Later I was accused of insulting Judge Belinda Ang through my blog post. Later I was told that the earlier charges were dropped and I was charged under the Sedition Act of Singapore because of my blog. Later an additional charge that I had sent an Email to Judge Lai Sui Chue in March of 2006 more than 2 years ago.

As far as the accusation that I had sent an Email to Judge Belinda Ang; this is entirely untrue. I never sent any Emails to Ang or anyone else. All I did was to post my blog post. There were no Emails at all. The police had seized my documents and belongings from my hotel room. Among the items seized was an old blue tattered notebook. This is not a computer, which has been wrongly described as one in the papers. It was a tattered old notebook. In it there was my password for my Email and other personal numbers.

As far as the Email to Judge Lai Sui Chu, this was more than 2 years ago. I cannot remember if I sent that Email. Even if I did, I was not in Singapore at the time. I was physically in Fremont, Northern California. If I sent the Email, it was from Fremont Northern California. From 2006 March to present I had traveled to Singapore on at least one occasion on November 2006 without incident. It is odd that they want to proceed on a matter that I did or did not do more than 2 years ago! If indeed anyone had been insulted, it was more than 2 years ago, for Heavens Sake! Even if there was insult, which is denied, surely anyone would have got over the insult by now, unless of course they are afflicted with incurably delicate nerves!

On Monday June 2nd, 2008, I was brought to court in handcuffs in a police car. I have not been officially charged with anything in court. The prosecution requested and was allowed to keep me in custody for a further one week. I was taken back to solitary confinement in Cantonment Police Station.

I was suddenly told without prior warning that I was going to be released from custody prematurely on June 5th 2008 on bail while the police continued with their investigations. Bail was fixed at fixed at $5000.00 for the accusation that I had sent an Email to Judge Belinda Ang. As there was another charge being tendered for the accusation that I sent Judge Lai an Email more than 2 years ago, I was ordered to appear before Court 26 on Monday June 09, 2008, another court, in the Court complex for the matter to be looked into.

On June 09, 2008 this other charge, being the over 2 years old accusation, was looked into. I was again given bail of $5,000.00.

For both cases I have been bailed out. I am presently out on bail.

The police had impounded my passport and I cannot travel. I am forced to remain in Singapore during these proceedings. I had originally intended to return to the US no later than June 3 2008, having arrived in Singapore on early morning May 26, 2008. Forcing me to remain in Singapore and being unable to return to the US is by itself causing me untold harm. My law practice in the US is suffering and various other matters such as my house mortgage cannot be attended to. This alone is causing extreme hardship to me.

Furthermore I am facing severe financial hardship in having to remain in Singapore much longer than expected.

The American Embassy, Singapore has been monitoring my case. I am grateful to Miss Julie Kavanagh, Consul and recently Mr. Learned Dees, Vice Consul together with another officer from the Embassy who have been taking special interest in my case. They have always been present at all my court hearings making it known to the Singapore court that they are watching.

This whole matter boils down to one question. A right to free speech and expression. It appears to me as well as anyone watching this case that what the Singapore authorities are trying to say is this. Do not criticize the Singapore judiciary no matter what. Even if the Singapore judiciary were to say, two and two is ten, the Moon is made of cheese and Christmas Day does not fall on December 25th, we have to keep our mouths shut and go about our business as if nothing happened! What the Singapore authorities are trying to say, if I correctly understand it, is that human beings are disallowed from criticizing the judiciary, period! They are above criticism. They are beyond question. They are invincible. Infallible. They are the best, and need no criticism from mortal human beings! That they are Gods.

I, as a human being cannot understand this to be correct, surely. I was born a Singaporean. I lived my life here in Singapore. I am a former Singapore politician. The welfare of Singapore and Singaporeans should be more my concern than that of Central West Africa! Surely. Criticism is necessary for any organization to improve, to get better. Without criticism, there is stagnation. And with stagnation there is no hope. This has always been the case. What I had done and said was for the welfare of Singapore, a country that I care for and a country in which I have a stake, even if I am now an American.

Forcing me to remain in Singapore for a long period is no doubt causing me great hardship. Of course I also worry as to what is in store for me at the end of the court hearing.

But one thing is certain. Regardless of what I have to suffer, I will not admit to anything I did not do. I have a right to free speech and expression and I had exercised that right as a free man; as a human being. If have to pay a price for what I had said in my blog, so be it.

The Singapore government would be better off if they faced reality. In this day and age, and in a country such as Singapore with an educated population, demanding that citizens keep their mouths shut and comply as obedient sheep is not only untenable, it is counter productive. I have said this many times before, and it has to be said again. You cannot expect to become a first world country by forcing people to remain silent when criticism is warranted. This refusal of Singapore to face the reality of the times is the very reason why Singaporeans flee their country in droves.

Being forced to remain in Singapore against my will, I naturally have to live among Singaporeans. What I have found so far is by and large; educated Singaporeans are recent immigrants from somewhere else. From India, from Europe and from elsewhere. I am not seeing any local educated Singaporeans. I have no doubt that they have left the country. They have emigrated to other countries in the world, and left Singapore for good.

Perhaps, like me, they too think that the administration should be subject to criticism. And that includes the judiciary. Judges are not Gods after all.

Gopalan Nair