Govt wiretapping opposition? MHA must respond to State Dept

I glanced through the US Department of State’s annual human rights report on Singapore. It contains little that I don’t already know. Much of it was a cut-and-paste from last year’s report.

Yet there were a few interesting tidbits that I noticed.

In June a visiting foreign citizen, Gopalan Nair, was arrested for comments he made in his blog about the High Court judge presiding in the hearing to assess damages in the Chee defamation case. He was charged with insulting a public servant, which carried a maximum fine of S$5,000 ($3,759) or one year in prison.

Gopalan Nair is a US citizen, albeit a former Singaporean. I found it interesting that the US State Dept (i.e., its foreign ministry), which is supposed to defend the interests of its citizens abroad, chose to avoid stating that Nair was a US citizen. I can think of two possible reasons. One, most Americans won’t even suspect or care that he is a US citizen; and two, they probably don’t want to cause an uproar back home over him, and jeopardize bilateral relations. Although that latter statement is probably me getting too big headed. Why would a hyperpower like the US care about offending Singapore in this respect?

The Films Act bans political advertising using films or videos as well as films directed towards any political purpose. The act does not apply to any film sponsored by the government, and the act allows the MICA minister to exempt any film from the act.

Another interesting omission was that they failed to mention anything about the AIMS committee, the government’s response to their report and the proposed “liberalisations” of the Internet and the Films Act. Either they thought that these were too insignificant to be worthy of mention, or it happened too late to make it to press time. I know that the US embassy here has taken some interest in these developments, so I’m surprised they didn’t report about it. Or maybe it’s because technically, the Films Act has yet to be amended — I believe it is still pending its second reading in Parliament.

The report also did not mention about the spike in incidences of cheating of foreign workers from Bangladesh, China and elsewhere. This must come as a huge relief to MOM, whose officers had probably already prepared a rebuttal and cleared it with their Minister for release.

The belief that the government might directly or indirectly harm the employment prospects of opposition supporters inhibited opposition political activity; however, there were no confirmed cases of such retaliation.

I’m glad to hear there were no confirmed cases — in 2008. I hope that continues on for 2009 and beyond, especially during an election year. In my opinion, this is the single biggest reason why the opposition continues to face such difficulties in recruiting more capable Singaporeans into their ranks.

Yet,

Law enforcement agencies, including the Internal Security Department and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Board, have extensive networks for gathering information and conducting surveillance and highly sophisticated capabilities to monitor telephone and other private conversations. No court warrants are required for such operations. It was believed that the authorities routinely monitored telephone conversations and the use of the Internet. It was widely believed that the authorities routinely conducted surveillance of some opposition politicians and other government critics.

I wonder who these opposition politicians they are monitoring are? “Politicians” could mean elected MPs, or simply opposition party members. I consider it a gross invasion of privacy if they are wiretapping the telephone conversations and emails of law-abiding opposition members. It will be even more appalling and unacceptable if they are monitoring elected opposition MPs. That would be a huge misuse of government and taxpayer resources for political ends.

Imagine if Internal Security Department (ISD) officers — who are civil servants — are monitoring opposition party conversations and emails, and are reporting all their election strategies to the Prime Minister! I sure hope this is not happening, because I think the ISD and the PAP will lose every remaining shred of credibility if they do revolting things like that. If they don’t, then the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) should come out and strongly rebut this accusation by the US and state clearly that nothing of this sort happens in Singapore.

I have written separately to MHA to highlight this to them and request for their action.

7 thoughts on “Govt wiretapping opposition? MHA must respond to State Dept”

  1. Have we gone down far enough, Singapore? How much further do we want our society to degrade to? How will our children live? Will we become prisonners of ideology for the sake of promised economic wellness? Where has that led us today? Did we really prosper that much as citizens? Are we a better, more caring people or dispensable digits working only for Singapore Inc?

    These are the questions to ask ourselves at the next general elections.

  2. Firstly, the U.S. government may perceive that AIMS is irrelevant to them and therefore, it’s not worth a mention.

    Next, the U.S. government may have a set of standard of their own to determine who is a visiting foreign citizen and who is officially a U.S. citizen. And if that’s the case, it’s going to be a federal matter which we naturally would have no knowledge of. So, it’s not up to us to determine whether Gopalan Nair is a U.S. citizen or not.

    Just my 2-cents worth. No offence meant and I hope none is taken.

  3. James – Either one is a US citizen or is not. I don’t think there is an official citizen and an unofficial one. In the case of Nair, he was a bona fide citizen.

  4. It has been weeks since this report was published, and we have not heard anything from MHA. Since they are so good a rebutting accusations, I will have to assume they are not rebutting this because it is true. How disgraceful!

  5. You completed a number of good points there. I did a search on the matter and found mainly people will have the same opinion with your blog.

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