Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Question

Every day, we do many things for ourselves. We work to earn a living, we sit and have our meals, we rest and rewind. But,
"Life's most persistent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'"
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Singapore activists speak about their police interrogations

Source: Singapore Rebel

A police investigation is not something that most civil activists would look forward to. It is an annoyance and an intrusion. But given the State's liberal enforcement of our many illiberal laws, such a prospect can never be totally discounted.

In the wake of the police interrogation of Han Hui Hui, former lawyer and ISA detainee Teo Soh Lung had written a brief guide on what to do when one is summoned for police investigation.

Her views are further expanded here by other human rights advocates and filmmakers who had spent hours on the interrogatee's chair. Some were eventually prosecuted, others were not. Their experiences and advices offer snapshots on the extent of police powers in Singapore, and some methods by which activists can use to overcome their fear of isolation and prosecution.



Seelan Palay

Describe your role in civil society: Activist, Artist, Video/Filmmaker

Years active: From 2004 to present

How many police interrogations have you undergone? I believe 7-10

What were the nature of the investigations? Flyer distribution, assembly without permit, screening of political film

How did the police serve the notices? Hand delivered to my house

Total number of hours under interrogation? Each time is about an hour

Have you ever been formally charged? Yes

How much fine did you pay? I did not pay the fine

How many days of prison time did you undergo? 12 days

Cite one aspect of your experience in which you feel the authorities were out-of-line? 
Every single time they arrest and charge us for "illegal assembly and/or procession", especially the way they surrounded and forcefully arrested us during our Tak Boleh Tahan march from Parliament House.

What's your advice for activists undergoing police probe for their work? 
I answered almost every question by citing that I was only excercising my constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly. I believe this is a good way to answer and remind people/authorities about those rights, and to avoid any incrimination through the questions that the police ask you. 

Chong Kai Xiong

Describe your role in civil society: Not sure what to write here

Years active: from end 2006 to present

How many police interrogations have you undergone? 
5 in total in connection to the following events:
- 10 Dec 2006 Human Rights Day Walk,
- 16 Sep 2007 IMF/WB anniversary walk,
- 15 March 2008 TBT rally/walk from Parliament House (arrested)
- 9 August 2008 TBT National Day
- 12 Jan 2009 MOM Protest (arrested)

What were the nature of the investigations? Arrested twice. Questioned for participation in assembly or procession without permit for four times and once for “criminal trespassing”.

How did the police serve the notices? By registered mail and by coming to my doorstep.

Total number of hours under interrogation? 1 to 1.5 hours each time.

Have you ever been formally charged? Yes, thrice.

How much fine did you pay? Approximately $3500

How many days of prison time did you undergo?  None

Cite one aspect of your experience in which you feel the authorities were out-of-line?

Arrested outside MOM for “criminal trespassing” even though I was standing on public pavement, shared with loads of pedestrians; obstruction of procession and forcible removal of placards during arrest (TBT protest) without proper reason given.

What's your advice for activists undergoing police probe for their work?

- Meet with your peers and seek legal advice.
- Keep calm and firm and don't let anyone goad or guilt trip you. Know you have done nothing wrong and it is the police that has to justify their actions.
- Do not volunteer information for whatever reason. It will likely be used against you or your peers in court.
- Do not make self-incriminating statements, or statements implicating others.
- Refuse to answer where possible.
- Check through the printout of the recorded statement given by the investigation officer. Make sure your words have been accurately recorded.
- Ask for a copy of the statement; if the police refuses to hand you one, manually copy the questions and answers down.

Tian Jing
Years active: 2006-2010 

How many police interrogations have you undergone? 3 interviews

What were the nature of the investigations? Illegal Assembly without permit, illegal procession, attempted procession

How did the police serve the notices? Letter by hand
Total number of hours under interrogation? 30 minutes to 1 hour

Have you ever been formally charged? Yes, 1 charge

How much fine did you pay? $1000

How many days of prison time did you undergo? None

What's your advice for activists undergoing police probe for their work?

There is no need to answer anything in the investigation, there's no obligation. Just say no comments.

Rachel Zeng
Describe your role in civil society: I work on human rights issues and in recent years, I have been focusing on the campaign against the death penalty. I have also worked on issues pertaining to G8, (conducted a protest outside the Japanese embassy in 2008), ISA, Burma, freedom of speech and assembly, the atrocities in Sri Lankan, LGBT rights (as an ally), among others.

Years active: From 2008 to now.

How many police interrogations have you undergone? 2

What were the nature of the investigations?
Disributing flyers outside Liat Towers (on the case of Yong Vui Kong) and selling Once a Jolly Hangman during Freedom Film Festival at the Substation.

How did the police serve the notices?
For the first case, they sent the notice to me thrice - personally, by registered post, and via normal post. In the second case, the Investigating Officer (IO) came personally to my flat and served it to me in person - at about 7.15am in the morning.

Total number of hours under interrogation? First case - about an hour; second case - close to 2 hours.

Have you ever been formally charged? No.

Cite one aspect of your experience in which you feel the authorities were out-of-line?

I was told by the IO in the first investigation, "I am the one doing the questioning" when I repeatedly asked him why he was asking me certain questions which I felt were irrelevant. This might not be out of line, as he did try to maintain his cool but I just wanted to put this down anyway.

What's your advice for activists undergoing police probe for their work?

Before investigation - read up on the particular act that you are investigated under, and identify which clauses you have violated, and which ones actually protect you. If you can, bring a copy of the act along for reference in case you need to challenge the IO. Always inform fellow activists that you will be investigated, and if possible, do not go alone. Also, if the stipulated date and time of the investigation is inconvenient for you, feel free to change it.

During the questioning - ask the IO if you will be able to get a copy of your signed statement, and if the answer is no, establish an agreement to take down notes of the questions and answers. If they aren't rude, be nice about it, but maintain the stand that you must have some sort of a record for your personal reference. During the questioning, keep your answers short and clear. If the questions are irrelevant, just say so. Just be frank, and don't need to lie, and be confident about your answers. Get out of it as soon as you can, and do bring a jacket if you are at Cantonment Police Complex.

Martyn See

Describe your role in civil society: Documentary filmmaker, blogger

Years active: From 2005 

How many police interrogations have you undergone? 6 interrogations

What were the nature of the investigations? 
Making of a political film 'Singapore Rebel' and organising a private indoor human rights forum featuring foreign MPs

How did the police serve the notices? Mostly by calls to my mobile phone, and once via registered mail.

Total number of hours under interrogation? About 11 hours over 6 sessions.

Have you ever been formally charged? No.

Cite one aspect of your experience in which you feel the authorities were out-of-line? 

During the 'Singapore Rebel' investigations, my video camera was confiscated, but at no point did I surrender my mobile phone, so it came as a shock when friends informed me that they were called up by the police to attend questioning over my case. 

What's your advice for activists undergoing police probe for their work? 

Civil activists under investigation need to be mentally prepared. Other than M. Ravi, lawyers will not be forthcoming. Audio-visual recordings are prohibited in the interrogation room, although you can bring your mobile devices. When summoned, ascertain with the police the exact law under which you are being investigated. In the interrogation room, take your time to formulate replies but keep them short. Don't be afraid to answer "I don't know", "no comment" or "I don't remember". Bring a notepad. Officers tend to be professional and cordial in cases involving civil rights, but do avoid being lulled into providing unnecessary information.

Leslie Chew

Describe your role in civil society: Observer

Years active: from 2011 to 214

How many police interrogations have you undergone? 1

What were the nature of the investigations? Accused of sedition

How did the police serve the notices? No notice. Direct arrest and detained for around 44 hours before bail is allowed. Then forbidden to travel out of the country for 3 months while they take their own sweet time to decide that they have no ground to charge me for sedition.

Total number of hours under interrogation? Over 30 hours.

Have you ever been formally charged? Not for sedition.

Cite one aspect of your experience in which you feel the authorities were out-of-line?
Seizing all the computers and data storage devices in my parents' home including my elderly father's work computer "for investigation".

What's your advice for activists undergoing police probe for their work?

1. The police are not your friends.
2. Smile, keep clam and be friendly, but do not trust them one bit. No matter how friendly they pretend to be, they are not your friends.
3. Keep your answers short and sweet.
4. Do not volunteer any information. I repeat, they are not your friends.
5. Anything you say, even innocently, can and will be used against you. Once again, they are not your friends.
6. There is no coffee at Cantonment.
7. On the bright side, if arrested, it is a good opportunity to get any medical conditions you have treated for free.

Lynn Lee

Describe your role in civil society: Documentary filmmaker

Years active: From 2008.

How many police interrogations have you undergone? Two

What were the nature of the investigations? The Internal Affairs Officer (IAO) said they were investigating allegations of police brutality made by 2 SMRT bus drivers. I had interviewed the drivers and posted segments of the interviews online.

How did the police serve the notices? They came to my house. They also asked to confiscate my harddrive, computer, laptop and mobile phone.
Total number of hours under interrogation? 2 hours + 9 hours (parts of the second interview involved police taking apart my laptop and examining data in it; they also examined my mobile phone).

Have you ever been formally charged? No.

The AGC sent me a letter informing me that they had decided not to prosecute me, despite finding that I was in contempt of court. I had no idea when I was being questioned, that the IAO was investigating me for contempt. I had always thought they were investigating the SMRT drivers' allegations of police brutality.

Cite one aspect of your experience in which you feel the authorities were out-of-line? 
The IAO said they were investigating the SMRT drivers' allegations of abuse. But they kept asking me lots of irrelevant questions about whether I championed any "causes". The police superintendent sent to confiscate my laptop and mobile phone was not from the IAO (which is supposed to work independently), but from Bedok branch. When I asked him to justify why it was necessary to take my things, he said I should just let them "seize first" and lodge a complaint later!

What's your advice for activists undergoing police probe for their work? 
Take notes. Write down all questions and answers. Write down the name and rank of the people questioning you. Bring a sweater, wear comfortable shoes and bring your own water. If you wear contact lenses, bring eyedrops and your glasses. I realised when I was being interviewed, that my eyes felt really dry after six or seven hours. Give short, truthful answers. Don't ramble. Take your time. If you feel that a question is irrelevant, say so and decline to answer. If you can't remember, say you can't remember. Read and re-read your statement before signing it. Don't be afraid to ask for amendments if something is wrong. Be polite but assertive. And finally, make sure some one you trust outside is monitoring the situation.

Jolovan Wham

Describe your role in civil society: Migrant workers' rights


Years active: 2004 to now


How many police interrogations have you undergone? 2
What were the nature of the investigations?  One for protesting without permit and one for organising a protest which foreigners participated

How did the police serve the notices?  First one they conducted the investigations on the protest site, 2nd one they called. 


Total number of hours under interrogation? Both were slightly over an hour

Have you ever been formally charged? No.

Cite one aspect of your experience in which you feel the authorities were out-of-line?  
For the first case, filming me without permission as we were being interviewed.

What's your advice for activists undergoing police probe for their work?
Keep answers really short and to the point. I am not so seasoned in handling police but I refuse to sign the interview statement if I can't have a copy of it.

Shafi'ie                                                                                                                                                            
Describe your role in civil society: 
I did what needed to be done. I did not sign up with a volunteer corp of sorts so there was not any "assigned" roles but I was with sghumanrights, Free Burma Campaign Sg, SADPC and other occasional group actions.

How many police interrogations have you undergone? There are too many for me to recall at this moment.

What were the nature of the investigations?

To "assist investigation" on events like:  giving out flyers in public to raise awareness on issues, being in candlelight vigils, wearing a tshirt with a certain design, peaceful protest following the announcement to increase public transport and costs of utilities that would take place simultaneous with the increased salaries of the ministries.

How did the police serve the notices? Once by hand, at night. Others by mail, occasionally coupled with phone calls.

Total number of hours under interrogation? I cannot recall the exact number at the moment.

Have you ever been formally charged? Yes.

How much fine did you pay? I was billed $1,600 in one case. In another, it was $5,000. In the latter, it was technically defined as pay costs to the AGC (Attorney-General's Chambers) and not as fine.

How many days of prison time did you undergo? 7 days.

Cite one aspect of your experience in which you feel the authorities were out-of-line?

To agree or disagree is entirely human. To express sentiments peacefully is naturally human too, and these were most often made out of genuine concern. Getting into legal trouble for doing so is not characteristic of a society that proclaims to be democratic.

What's your advice for activists undergoing police probe for their work?

1. Read the Constitution to understand your legal rights and the legal technicalities relevant to your situation. You would be surprised that most officers do not have knowledge about the Constitution.

2. Be firm but civil and courteous in interactions with the police. Be respectful (as you ought to fellow human beings) but firmly state your rights. Know what you stand for and remind the officer that you are not a criminal. However, if the officer is outright rude or threatening despite you being respectful, do not hesitate to lodge a complain.

3. Keep a record of what was said during the investigation. Bring a pen and paper to take down notes. You will be asked to counter-check and sign against your statement as typed in by the officer but the copy will not be given to you. Therefore, the notes you take down will be your own copy.

4. If you are being monitored and followed, try to verify and confirm that you are indeed being followed. If so, take pictures of the culprit as record. Inform others around you. Monitor and follow the culprit.

5. As in everything, always remember to pause and reflect. To fight systemic injustice is only half the battle, to grow as a better person is the other half. Always be motivated by love because it nourishes no matter what you have to go through. In this way, you win even when you lose. Never succumb to hate because it is blinding. The greatest tragedy is to embody the injustice you set out to stop.

Jaslyn Go
                                        
Describe your role in civil society: Civil activist, and now a member of SDP

Years active: From 2007

How many police interrogations have you undergone? 3 or 4 (can't remember)

What were the nature of the investigations? Illegal assembly, protest

How did the police serve the notices? 
First notice was served at almost 10pm when two male officers banged on my door very loudly. I reprimanded them and later lodged a formal complaint with the Investigating Officer (IO). Subsequently, letters were discreetly thrown into my house even though my door was open and I was at home at that time. After I did not respond to these notices, they were delivered via registered mail. 

Total number of hours under interrogation? Not more than 2 hours each time.

Have you ever been formally charged? Yes, twice.

How much fine did you pay? 
First charge was $900 for each offence - total $1,800 (for illegal assembly and protest). Second charge was $600 (for illegal assembly).

How many days of prison time did you undergo? None

Cite one aspect of your experience in which you feel the authorities were out-of-line? 
During the interview at the Bukit Merah Neighbourhood Police Post, I had wanted to write down the questions but the IO said that would take up too much time. So he suggested that he would allow me the time to write only after I had answer the questions. But after the interview was over, he refused to let me do so.

What's your advice for activists undergoing police probe for their work? 
Know your rights and be assertive. We need not be rude, but if you feel the police have crossed the line, lodge a formal complaint.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"I Already Bought You"

"The work wasn’t what I expected it to be. It was totally different. I would wake up to start cooking, then cleaning, washing clothes, and then cooking again. No rest, there was just no rest… Because she kept yelling, I cried and asked to go back to agency, but madam said “I already bought you"
— Farah S., a 23-year-old Indonesian domestic worker, Dubai, December 7, 2013 

One of the harrowing stories from this latest report from Human Rights Watch on migrant workers in the UAE: http://www.hrw.org/node/129797/section/2

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Squatting Knowledges and my latest work, The Third Life

On 11 October at the Center for Contemporary Arts (CCA), I spoke and shared at an art forum titled, 'Squatting Knowledges: Failure/s in a Constellation and as a Tribunal'.  

Organised by Manila-based Disc Lab, the event was also where I shared my latest work, 'The Third Life', for the first and last time.

More on the event:

For the second iteration of Squatting Knowledges, Manila-based DiscLab | Research and Criticism socializes their inquiry on failure as a shared horizon and as a site of reflexivity among precarious art and cultural workers within the provisional context and coordinates of the so-called “international” that is Singapore.

As failure is normalized and adorned as a necessary catalyst of production, DiscLab refetishizes failure as a rhizome for discussion in order to subvert the politeness towards it, to render it as a material condition, and as a radical ground for solidarity and kinship. The overdetermined communication channels of institutions and the inherent contingency of independent and non-aligned initiatives to institutions have calcified the articulation of failure—foreclosing its transference to larger socioeconomic and political issues or discursive fields. DiscLab responds to this situation by employing a common organizational strategy and uses it as surrogate site to extract failure from its comfortable habitus.

In "Failure/s in a constellation and as a tribunal", DiscLab takes the role of insufficient interlocutors who speculate on the activity of failures when they intermingle and on the function of failures when they become a tribunal. The one-day programme is composed of three streams of conversations/discussions with cultural producers attached to the place called Singapore. DiscLab plays with the tripartite format of job interview to engage with the participants. This method allows multiple disclosures: The interview commences with a professional declaration of past experiences and background, and culminates with an intimate sharing of personal stories. Here, failures are prolonged, streamlined and contextualized in a spectrum. The interview format also provides an opportunity to ask sensitive, sensationalizing, and intrusive questions about failure under the guise of requirements for employment/hiring process. The program concludes with a roundtable discussion where participants and DiscLab moderators reflect on their performative gestures, outburst, and other modes of activating their failures.

Participants: Seelan Palay and Dr. Elmo Gonzaga, Post-Museum, and DiscLab Research and Editorial Collective

A modest publication titled FAILURES (October-November 2014) gathers reflections and positions on failure. Contributors include Elaine Ho/HomeShop, Kevser Guler, Donna Miranda, Alia Swastika, Cian Dayrit, Javier Toscano/Laboratorio 060, Lourdes Morales, Buen Calubayan, C&G (Clara Cheung and Gum Cheung), VILE/RATS (Richard Streitmatter-Tran and Le Tuong Vi)

Squatting Knowledges at CCA is made possible by the generous support of Kalaw-Ledesma Foundation, Inc. and Post-Museum.

This event is part of More than [show] business - Post-PopUp at CCA. The project More than [show] business - Post-PopUp at CCA is a collaborative effort between Post-Museum and CCA, led by curators Anca Rujoiu and Vera Mey, with the additional support of the National Arts Council (NAC).

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Philippines seizes 15 paintings from Marcos family

Associated Press, October 01 2014

The Philippine government has seized 15 paintings from the former home of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, part of efforts to recover 156 artworks — including ones by Van Gogh, Monet and Michelangelo — that are part of his alleged ill-gotten wealth, an official said Wednesday.

The paintings were recovered Tuesday from Marcos' old residence in San Juan city in metropolitan Manila, said the head of the agency tasked to recover wealth amassed by Marcos during his 20-year rule.

Andres Bautista, chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, said court sheriffs also tried to seize paintings from a condominium belonging to Marcos' widow, Imelda. He said the sheriffs were kept waiting outside for an hour, and when they entered they saw her crying and found only empty walls and hooks that once held paintings.

Bautista said sheriffs backed by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation also went to Imelda Marcos' congressional office and to the Marcos family's ancestral home in northern Ilocos Norte province. He said he is awaiting their reports.

The good government commission obtained an anti-graft court order this week imposing a "writ of attachment" on the 156 paintings in connection with a civil suit seeking to recover the Marcos wealth, which has been estimated to be in the billions of dollars.

Bautista said the seizure of the paintings was necessary before they "disappear or are hidden away." They were taken to the central bank for safekeeping.

He said his agency will seek help from international auction houses Sotheby's and Christie's to determine the paintings' authenticity.

Bautista said the trial of the civil suit will continue until the court decides who should own the paintings.

"The position of the government is this is part of ill-gotten wealth and should be returned to the government and the people," he said, citing a Supreme Court decision. The 2003 ruling said the Marcoses' wealth in excess of their total legal income of around $304,000 from 1965 to 1986 was presumed to be ill-gotten.

Marcos died in exile in Hawaii in 1989 without admitting any wrongdoing during his presidency.

Bautista said earlier this year that Philippine authorities have recovered more than $4 billion of an estimated $5 billion to $10 billion amassed by the Marcoses. That includes $712 million from Marcos' secret Swiss bank accounts, he said.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Singapore: We must get behind our activists and alternative newsites

Singapore Democrats

As the next election draws nearer, government-controlled sources of information will increasingly push out commentary praising the PAP regardless of the difficulties and frustration that Singaporeans face.

But while this may have worked well for the ruling party in years past, circumstances have altered considerably with the expansion of the Internet.

No longer is it easy for the PAP to play fast and loose with the facts as bloggers, with the ability to retrieve information at a moment's notice, are able to call out the authorities' bluster and disingenuity.

This is why, if Singapore is going to mature into a thinking society where we are able to distinguish between news and propaganda, we must value our activists.

Alternative newsites such the Temasek Review Emeritus (which has recently called for financial support), The Real Singapore, The Online Citizen, Redwire Times, etc., as well as the myriad of blogs provide an invaluable service in our effort to develop a democracy.

Coupled with a fast-developing civil society sector where activists, once non-existent, are now making themselves heard on a variety of issues, the scene is set for citizens to take on a more meaningful role in shaping public policy.

This is the reason the SDP fought for democracy and the rights of our fellow Singaporeans.

Not only did we believe (and still do) that freedom, in and of itself, is worth defending, but we also knew that without our political rights, we could not fight for our social and economic interests – interests like curbing the excessively liberal immigration policy or protesting against the retention of our CPF money.

The exercise of our fundamental rights of speech, assemble and association – exemplified by the gatherings at Hong Lim Park organised by our activists – have enabled the blogosphere to keep the people informed of the damage done by PAP's policies.

If Singapore is going to develop into a truly First World society, a robust civil society, of which the Internet community plays an integral part, is indispensable.

PM Lee Hsien Loong recently disparaged the Internet as a medium that has “led to divisions and all kinds of different ideas being able to take root and germinate.”

It is unfortunate that the leader of a government that professes to champion a knowledge-based economy cannot see that it is “all kinds of ideas” that has led to progress and the advancement of human civilisation.

Like everything else, modern communication tools can be a force for good or it can be abused to degrade humanity. It does not portend well for our nation that the PAP cannot inspire our people to achieve great things and aspire to noble ends.

But we must not despair. We must, instead, encourage “all kinds of ideas” to be articulated and have faith in our people that the good ones will be cultivated and the bad ones discarded.

This means supporting the endeavours of our online community and civil society.