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Investigations, “self-care” and looking ahead

This week: Surprisingly, there is not yet a list of specifically designed "politically significant persons"... but the police have been calling people in for investigations into death penalty-related actions from over a year ago.

Here we are in 2024! I hope you had a great Christmas and New Year break. But now it’s time to get back to work for another year… 😮‍💨

It feels like things haven’t fully picked up just yet, so this is going to be a bit of an easy one, looking ahead at the year a little bit. If you haven't read it yet, I also wrote something for Altering States about the death of Lee Sun-kyun and high-profile drug investigations.

Is there going to be a list?

In last year’s issue I wrote about how the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act, or FICA, was finally going to be fully enforced. Part of the law applies to the classification of “politically significant persons”—apart from political parties, MPs, etc., FICA also allows for other individuals and organisations to be so designated. Red Dot United, one of the political parties that received notice of the impending implementation, has questioned whether FICA is really going to do the job it’s meant to do:

“We are concerned that the Government might be missing the woods for the trees with this new requirement for PSPs… There is a risk that the Government, in its pursuit of specific security measures, might overlook the intricate and interconnected nature of potential threats. Striking the right balance between targeted security efforts and a comprehensive understanding of the complexities involved is vital to ensure that the Government does not lose sight of the larger picture.”

Many of us expected that a list would be made public on 29 December—which was when FICA came into force—or that individuals would at least be directly notified if they'd been designated a “politically significant person”. Anyway, 29 December came and went with very little noise, and it doesn’t seem as if anyone, beyond the automatically qualified political parties and organisations, has been classified as “politically significant” yet. Whew. But also, interesting… I wonder what’s going on there.

Investigate, investigate, investigate what?

Post by @jwham
View on Threads

As Jolovan Wham reports in the Threads post I embedded above (linked here in case the embed doesn't work), the police have been calling up people for questioning in relation to vigils and other death penalty-related actions that have taken place since 2022. Yes, they are questioning people about peaceful actions that they were involved in over a year—even over a year-and-a-half—ago. Some of those called in were interviewed about actions Rocky Howe and I were questioned about in June 2022—an investigation that the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders wrote to the Singapore government about in November 2022.

It's a complete waste of everyone's time and resources, really. What details do the police expect people to remember about things they did so long ago? The long lag also demonstrates that there was never any urgent public order or security concern—if there were, wouldn't the police act immediately, rather than wait over a year? So what is the point of all this, really?

“Self-care” for domestic workers

Since this isn’t a very packed newsletter, I thought it would be a good time to write about the “self-care journal” given to domestic workers while they’re in Singapore. I've uploaded some photos of a hard copy I came across, but you can also find a PDF copy on the Ministry of Manpower's website. (It's also available in Indonesian, Burmese, Tagalog and Tamil.)

I get that this might be well-meaning and well-intentioned, but I often wonder if some people really think of domestic workers as children or some alien race very different from the average Singaporean. Or maybe they're treating a lower level of fluency in English as a sign of lower maturity or intelligence. Either way, it's condescending AF. This self-care journal also doesn't acknowledge the huge power differential between workers and their employers—in an environment where it's common for employers to confiscate passports and openly discuss seizing mobile phones or limiting the time workers can use the Internet, do they really think that disagreements are going to play out the way the comic in "What can you do when you do not agree with your employer?" suggests?

To be clear, I'm not saying that information about self-care, managing stress and looking out for one's mental health is in itself useless and exploitative. But the government has a responsibility to do much more than this, because they are the ones with the power to make the systemic changes that will make a significant difference. It took a shamefully long time for domestic workers to be given, by law, a mandatory day off a month (a month!) that cannot be compensated with cash. That's just one small step, and there are so many more protections needed, like ensuring that a day off is a full 24 hours. Many new domestic workers are also spending their first months with almost no money because they're expecting to pay off loans to their agencies. There are people working under debt bondage; that's not something that writing "thank you" cards to their employers or colouring in drawings of "things I can control" will solve.

Looking ahead

Before writing this newsletter I've been thinking about what 2024 might be like for Singapore. Like many other Singaporeans, I have anxiety about rising costs. I'm also still expecting a list of "politically significant persons" to emerge at some point. But I suppose the biggest thing for Singapore as a whole is that 2024 is likely to be an election year. The general election is technically not due until 23 November 2025 but everyone seems to expect it to be held some time this year. It'll be significant because Lee Hsien Loong is also supposed to be passing the reins to Lawrence Wong... so let's see!

I'll be home soon, so making the most of the time I have left in Scotland. I took this photo while on a lovely walk. Look at the fog in the distance!

Thank you for reading! As always, feel free to forward this weekly wrap to anyone you like, and spread the word about this newsletter!