Yawning Bread. August 2006

Immigration, public opinion and seizable offences


    

 

 

It sticks in every gay Singaporean's craw. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for Singaporeans to take a "big-hearted" approach towards new immigrants in his National Day Rally speech, on 20 August 2006.

"I understand these concerns," he said, "because somebody new coming in, fitting in, they are different....[snip]...But we are different doesn't mean we have to reject them, we have to take a big-hearted approach." [1]

The main theme of that speech was the need to throw open Singapore's door to new immigration. Singapore needs all the talent we can get. To this end, the government is giving out scholarships by the fistful to foreigners. And for those families who have moved here, the education system is being reviewed to accommodate their desire for their languages, e.g. Hindi, Arabic, Indonesian, to be taught in schools.

"So there are things which we can do as a government in order to open our doors and bring immigrants in," Lee said.

"But more importantly as a society, we as Singaporeans, each one of us, we have to welcome immigrants, welcome new immigrants. I know that some Singaporeans don't agree. They have reservations, they worry about the competition, they are unhappy that immigrants come, here don't do National Service...."

By that, he acknowledged that his government's policy went against the grain of public opinion, but he wished to convince people otherwise.

Contrast this stance with his government's stance on people who are already Singaporeans, people who have done National Service, but who, because they are gay, are treated to official prejudice and discrimination. There's still the law that criminalises all gay men and serves as bedrock justifying all kinds of social prejudice. There is still heavy-handed censorship that strikes out anything that is positive about gay people, leaving only the negative. And yes, in the education system, there is every effort made to demonise homosexual orientation in young minds.

We will be prepared to teach Hindi, Russian and Turkish, but we will not teach our young people to see fellow Singaporeans who happen to be lesbian or gay in a better light.

Year in, year out, a steady stream of gay Singaporeans emigrate, taking their creative talent with them.

And the government's rationale for this? That Singaporeans are conservative (so they say), and public opinion will not allow the government to contemplate doing anything else.

 

Notice how public opinion didn't stand in the way of opening our doors to immigration. That being the case, Lee's concluding remarks sound like shameless hypocrisy:

"We will be an open, inclusive society where we all have a place, where we can all contribute, we all care for one another as one people and one nation, whatever our race, religion or background."

My background is that I am gay, as are a few hundred thousand Singaporeans, and a steady percentage of whatever immigrants Singapore wants to attract. What is Lee Hsien Loong and his government doing about it? Diddly squat?

* * * * *


I had mentioned in an earlier article  Political apoplexy and police priorities a complaint by Liew Sok Kuan that the police did diddly squat when her brother was assaulted by a gang of hooligans in April this year. Despite a call by the victim and another by witnesses, the police took 20 minutes to arrive, and then did precious little.

On arrival at about 12.25am, the police officers were informed by Dr Liew that two men from a group of six to eight had punched him - once in the face, and once in the stomach. He was observed to be bleeding from the nose.

Based on the initial information given, the case was classified as voluntarily causing hurt under Section 323 of the Penal Code. However, such a case requires a magistrate's authorisation before the police can exercise full powers of investigation. Dr Liew was given a police medical-report form and a referral letter to lodge a complaint with the magistrate. 

-- Straits Times Forum, 16 August 2006, letter
by Audrey Ang from the Police,
'Police explain actions taken in assault case'

When the victim lodged a medical report indicating a fracture, the police reclassified it from Section 323 ("voluntarily causing hurt") to Section 325 ("voluntarily causing grievous hurt"). What is the difference between 323 and 325 in terms of police response? See below.

The police did concede however that perhaps the constables at the scene had treated the matter too lightly, putting the victim and his family through unnecessary stress.

We acknowledge that our responding officers at the scene should have treated the incident more seriously, based on the circumstances that led to the assault. Had this been done, it would have been unnecessary for Dr Liew to be advised that he needed to make an application to a magistrate.

-- Straits Times Forum, 16 August 2006, letter
by Audrey Ang from the Police,
'Police explain actions taken in assault case'

This reply from the police, published 16 August 2006 in the Straits Times, led to more letters from the public. They expressed amazement that there was such a bureaucratic procedure in place hampering immediate police action when someone beats up another person. It seemed incredible that no investigation would be launched despite the phone calls and leads provided (licence plate numbers of 2 of the motorcycles the assailants rode off on), unless the victim first did his paperwork.

So a week later, the police had to write another explanation to the press. This time, the police explained that Section 323 ("causing hurt") is a non-seizable offence, while Section 325 ("causing grievous hurt") is a seizable offence.

The key difference between a seizable and a non-seizable offence is that for seizable offences (such as murder, rape, voluntarily causing grievous hurt or causing hurt with weapons), police officers are legally empowered to arrest without a warrant. For non-seizable offences (such as misappropriation of property and mischief), police require a warrant of arrest or an order from a magistrate to make an arrest.

Section 323 cases can range from a parent disciplining his child by slapping him, to family disputes, to scuffles between quarrelling persons, to bullying cases arising from road rage or a staring incident.

Many of the cases reported under Section 323 arose between adults in situations of dispute which get out of hand and the parties get into a fight. Most family-related cases are resolved amicably without police intervention. These parties often do not necessarily want to seek redress through the legal system.

-- Straits Times Forum, 23 August 2006, letter
by Audrey Ang, Asst Director, Police,
'When police will act on a non-seizable
offence'

Yet, despite all this paperwork by the police, writing letter after letter to the press, it still misses the point. You'd notice that "bullying cases arising from road rage or a staring incident" are, as a matter of policy, treated as merely Section 323 offences. The police are busy explaining the mechanics of what they do without understanding that as far as the public is concerned, it's the damn policy that is the problem.

The public expects road rage and violent hooliganism that arise from staring incidents to warrant immediate intervention and arrest if the culprits are at the scene. The Liew case arose because some 6 - 8 youths thought the victim was at first staring at them. 

The police, on the other hand, say that even if they see someone beating another person up, they will not make an arrest, because it's only considered as a 323 offence, wherein they need to get a warrant from the Duty Magistrate in the Subordinate Courts (on the next working day, if the incident takes place after hours) before they can arrest someone. And, reading between the lines, it seems that if they don't have a warrant in hand, they won't even bother to investigate.

Contrast this with Sections 377 and 377A of the Penal Code. These two clauses deal with sodomy and homosexual indecency (including mutual masturbation) respectively. They apply even in adult consensual situations and even in a private locked room. You might like to know that unlike Section 323, these are classified as seizable offences.

Accordingly, if the police peep in through a window and see two guys on a couch watching porn and masturbating, they feel empowered under Section 377A to break down the door, rush in and arrest them on the spot, while downstairs on the street, road rage must wait for a magistrate tomorrow morning.

And the Prime Minister thinks that "conservative" public opinion does not allow him to disturb such laws.

Yawning Bread 


 

I am all for immigration. I believe in an open society. It's just absurd that while we go all out to woo people to Singapore, at the same time we do so much to drive some people away, just because they are gay.

 

Footnotes

  1. With thanks to an anonymous guy who took the trouble to transcribe Lee Hsien Loong's long speech and have it posted on the Singapore Angle website. See here
    Return to where you left off

 

Addenda

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