A foreigner participates, the police investigates

Issue 85

Why UK why you liddat


Rest In Peace, Ann Wee—a pioneer of social work in Singapore. If you haven’t yet, look up her book A Tiger Remembers: The Way We Were in Singapore. Many lovely anecdotes about a time many of us know so little of.

Under investigation

The police are looking into a report that a foreigner had taken part in a public assembly organised by Gilbert Goh for Singaporeans to express their views about the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) between Singapore and India and immigration in general. According to The Online Citizen, the foreigner in question is an Israeli who asked a question during the Q&A session at the rally.

I tend to boycott Gilbert Goh’s events, because I find them to often be dog-whistling (or not even dog-whistling, just blatantly expressing) xenophobia and racism, even if tapping on legitimate anxieties. But this, too, is ludicrous.

Under Singapore’s laws, foreigners aren’t allowed to participate in assemblies, even those at Hong Lim Park, and it’s also the responsibility of organisers to make sure that foreigners (i.e. people who are neither Singaporean nor Permanent Residents) aren’t present. It’s a major reason for the barricades and ID checks at Pink Dot, but it affects every gathering at Hong Lim Park—when you aren’t big or well-funded enough to afford barricades, how exactly are you meant to police the crowd to make sure that foreigners aren’t present or participating? And why should you police the crowd anyway?

This ridiculous rule not only places more burden on organisers, it’s also highly discriminatory. Many of the people who live, work, and raise families in Singapore aren’t citizens or PRs, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a right to be interested or participate in public discourse on national issues and politics. They can’t vote, but they should still have the freedom to express themselves and engage in conversations. We talk so much about integrating immigrants into Singaporean society, yet we actively criminalise their participation in political life.

Fire hoses and screw-ups

Here’s a big mess with especially serious, tragic consequences. When firefighters responded to a fire in Bukit Batok at the beginning of November, they found the cabinets containing the hose reels padlocked. After breaking through to get the reel out, they found that there was no water supply. They ended up having to use water from their emergency vehicles. On 9 December, a 60-year-old woman who was injured in that fire passed away in hospital.

Murali Pillai, the MP for that constituency, had earlier apologised for the situation with the fire hoses. The town council has also said that they are going to take disciplinary action against two officers who had been responsible for the locked cabinets, and hold the contractor who had left the pump room selector switch in the wrong mode—thus cutting off the water supply—responsible for negligence.

Books and naughty language

“Singaporeans Defending Marriage and Family” is a conservative Christian (and also Trump MAGA) Facebook page that stands against anything that might even have a whisper of pro-LGBT leanings. They’ve also expanded their repertoire to want to police anything they see as blasphemous or an insult to their religion. Recently, they took aim against Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which was selected by a school as a literature text for its students, claiming that it uses “foul and blasphemous language” that goes against Singaporean laws on racial and religious harmony.

The Ministry of Education, however, has stuck by the school, saying that the book was chosen for its “literary merits”. Good on MOE for doing this—I read the book many years ago and thought it a very powerful, engaging read.

A constitutional challenge coming up

M Ravi, defence lawyer for Daniel de Costa in his criminal defamation case, has filed a constitutional challenge arguing that the case against his client has contravened the part of the Constitution that says all are equal before the law. He’s saying that Lee Hsien Loong’s younger siblings have said worse about their brother, a member of the Cabinet, than anything Daniel has said in his commentary published on The Online Citizen.


This week on New Naratif, a research piece by Janet Steele examining how the suicide of a 16-year-old triggered heated debate over journalism ethics and reporting on Syariah in Aceh.

I found this a fascinating read: Lam Le looks at paternalism and patriarchal assumptions in the workforce in Vietnam, and what conditions are like for women workers.

You’ll notice that you’re able to access all our pieces through these links despite the fact that New Naratif has a paywall on our site. That’s because every New Naratif member has a unique URL that allows them to share articles with anyone they want, as many times as they want. It’s our way of balancing the need to remind people that such content needs to be paid for, while not barring anyone’s access to important information and research.

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