Straits Times: MPs call for checks and balances

Parliament

Move-on order and restrictions on filming are most contentious

BY JEREMY AU YONG


(From left) Mr Low Thia Khiang, Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Siew Kum Hong raised objections to two provisions in the new Public Order Act, saying they curbed civil liberties excessively.

THREE Members of the House yesterday opposed the new public order rules, arguing that these gave overarching powers to the police without sufficient checks and balances.

The trio were Mr Low Thia Khiang (Hougang), Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim and Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong.

At the heart of their objections were the two most contentious provisions in the new Public Order Act: the move-on order and restrictions on filming of certain security operations.

The first enables the police to order a person to leave a designated area if they determine that he is about to break the law.

The second allows the police to stop people from filming, distributing or exhibiting films of security operations.

Both provisions, the trio said, went too far in curtailing civil liberties, while leaving the door open to abuse.

Both Ms Lim and Mr Siew cited the case of Mr Ian Tomlinson to illustrate the potential pitfalls of filming restrictions.

Mr Tomlinson, a 47-year-old newspaper vendor, died from a heart attack two weeks ago, after getting caught up in a protest while on the way home.

The incident took place in London on the eve of the G-20 summit.

Ms Lim pointed out that British police initially said he had not clashed with them. This claim was disproved by a passer-by’s video clip showing a policeman shoving him in the back.

This triggered an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Ms Lim asked: “If the above case were to happen here, how does this Government expect truth and justice to prevail without the presence of footage recorded by public-spirited citizens?”

She also said the wording of the law was too broad when it was meant only to target security operations and not activities such as crowd control and other routine police action.

Similarly, Mr Siew and Ms Lim argued that the move-on powers were unnecessary and did not come with sufficient checks.

Mr Siew contended that there was not enough recourse for those who felt they were wrongly targeted. He felt the possibility of complaining to a commanding officer was not enough.

“That would trigger an internal investigation at most, which is not transparent and may not be perceived as being fair and independent,” he said.

In response, Second Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam noted that he and Mr Siew appeared to be coming from different starting points.

For example, on the issue of the police potentially abusing their powers in stopping a person from filming, he said: “Mr Siew’s perception is that all police officers will behave illegally. They’ll be smart and they’ll direct deletion because they don’t want a record of what they have just done.

“I come from the opposite perspective. I think we come from the perspective that our officers are fundamentally honest…”

Where abuses may occur, he said the Act requires the officer to give reasons to justify why he directed the deletion.

As for Ms Lim’s concern that the wording of the law could be read to cover the filming of routine police acts, the minister said he would relook the definition.

But he stressed the main idea was to give the police the powers to act to prevent situations that could compromise their work, and without people being able to argue about it.

Separately, opposition MP Chiam See Tong (Potong Pasir) had a more personal concern about the new law.

He noted how at the end of his election rallies, supporters often carried him and “off they go” – a move he feared could amount to holding a procession without a permit.

Mr Shanmugam assured him that such an incident would not run afoul of the law.

“The fact that Mr Chiam has not been charged so far shows he’s probably not breached the law and he should not have to worry,” he said.

jeremyau@sph.com.sg

Posted in 2009 04. Comments Off on Straits Times: MPs call for checks and balances

TODAY: It’s the message, not the platform

The Workers’ Party (WP) lays claim to being the first political party here to use Twitter to send out updates and mobilise supporters. According to WP’s Twitter page, its first message was posted on Nov 10 – 11 days before the Singapore Democratic Party.

The potential of Twitter – which allows followers to receive near-instantaneous updates and messages – “is not so much how many people have joined, but the convenience it gives mobilisers as a platform to galvanise support,” WP organising secretary Yaw Shin Leong told TODAY.

Apart from Facebook accounts and blogs maintained by its members, the WP can also count on an unofficial website – set up by a WP member earlier this year – to spread its political messages. Called “Hammersspeed”, the website aggregates online content related to the party.

Reiterating that these initiatives are part of a continuous process and “not an end in itself”, Mr Yaw said: “The idea is to enhance communication, to reach out to the people via more channels … These are mere instruments. It’s still about the message, not the platforms.” LOH CHEE KONG

Posted in 2009 04. Comments Off on TODAY: It’s the message, not the platform