February 14th, 2014

AWARE’s statement on the Public Order Bill

police1AWARE is gravely concerned by the proposed introduction of expanded police powers by the Public Order (Additional Temporary Provisions) Bill (the “Bill”).  We call upon the government to withdraw the Bill and, failing that, Members of Parliament to reject the Bill.

The Bill proposes to grant extensive powers to the police and auxiliary police, curtailing the rights and liberties of civilians.  In particular:

  • The legislation targets a specific area predominantly frequented by and associated with a particular racial group, and therefore has a strongly racially differentiated impact.  Moreover, the migrant workers especially affected by these restrictions are a marginalised group in Singapore, whose rights, welfare and social status are significantly compromised compared to those of citizens, residents and other classes of workers.
  • The legislation grants the police and auxiliary police extensive powers to stop, search and question civilians in an extremely intrusive manner, which compromises not just the freedom of movement but also, in the case of the proposed “strip search” powers, the right to bodily autonomy.  The exercise of these powers is based on a wide grant of discretion.  They can be invoked as long as the officer “reasonably considers it necessary”, an inadequately loose standard to meet for actions that so substantially affect human dignity.

Any legislative measure of this nature requires an extraordinary justification.  It could only be acceptable if introduced as the result of extensive and impartial investigation which demonstrated its necessity in order to avert an immediate and severe threat to human life or well-being.  Even in such a case, these powers could only be condoned after consideration of alternatives of a less potentially discriminatory and intrusive nature.  None of these preconditions has been met in this case.

Ms Lynn Lee, Mr Andrew Loh, Ms Shelley Thio, Dr Vincent Wijeysingha and Ms Rachel Zeng (together, the “authors”) have written a Briefing Paper on the Bill, dated 10 February 2014 (the “Briefing Paper”).  We agree with the authors that this Bill will weaken the stature of the Committee of Inquiry (the “CoI”) which is to investigate the causes and nature of the events of 8 December 2013.  The CoI should be given a chance to fulfil its mission thoroughly and impartially, without the influence of the assumptions underlying this precipitate legislation.

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