We, The Citizens is a newsletter covering Singapore with a focus on politics, democracy, human rights, and social justice. These weekly wraps are free to access.
Milo Peng Funders keep this newsletter running, as well as supporting my other independent writing and civil society work, so please become one if you can! You can also tip me on my Ko-Fi page. (If you’re looking for an RSS feed for this newsletter, you’ll find it here.)
Even the prime minister has gone on holiday until the end of the year, so I’m gonna try to kick back too. This is the last weekly wrap for 2021!
I’ll be back after the New Year with more news wraps and special issues. In the meantime, here’s the past week’s developments, and a round-up of “highlights” of 2021.
The never-ending COP drama
I’m worn out by all this. Everything has spun so wildly out of proportion, the Committee of Privileges has spent so many man-hours on this, the police are upset about the man-hours they’ve spent, and waaaaay too many news column inches have been devoted to this. And what are we doing to care for survivors of sexual assault — the issue that we were meant to be discussing before all this — throughout all this? As far as I can tell from the media coverage, diddly-squat, that’s what.
The Committee of Privileges has questioned Pritam Singh, Sylvia Lim, Faisal Manap, and Jamus Lim. They’re still going on with their probe, although as far as I can see the WP senior leadership position is that they hadn’t told Raeesah to “take the information to the grave” or continue with the lie; they had wanted her to set the record straight, but were “overwhelmed” by the revelation that Raeesah had been sexually assaulted when she was 18 years old, and were concerned for her well-being. But they aren’t going to get away from the COP so easily, because it has issued summons to the three of them for failing to produce internal documents that the Committee wanted. So this is going to go on for some time more.
I admit that I haven’t watched the videos of the COP proceedings. They remind me too much of the Select Committee process I participated in, in 2018 — an interaction that was supposed to be in good faith but turned out to be an effort, also by Edwin Tong, to fit us into some pre-set narrative. I just end up getting very frustrated. The only clips I’ve seen are the ones highlighted by the Pritam “fanbot” on Twitter (and, in the interests of balance, I’m also linking the Edwin “fanbot”).
Another solo protest going to court 🙄
Gilbert Goh has been charged for an “illegal assembly”. He’d stood outside the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority building in May holding a placard calling on the government to ban all flights from India. He has also been issued a stern warning for not complying with the conditions imposed on organisers in relation to an event he’d organised at Speakers’ Corner in 2019.
I disagree with Gilbert on a lot of things but this is just ludicrous. A single person holding a placard does not pose a threat to public safety, and the right to freedom of assembly is a fundamental right.
Got some more…
❤️ It's a little quieter now given the holiday period, but we're still going with the #SaveNagaenthran campaign! Today, members of the Transformative Justice Collective went to the Istana to submit letters asking for clemency to be granted.
🔓 Dickson Yeo, who served time in the US for spying for China, was detained under the Internal Security Act when he got back to Singapore. He’s finally been released, after almost a year of being detained without trial. He was let out under a suspension direction, so he’s not allowed to leave the country without approval from the director of the Internal Security Department. If he fails to comply with the conditions of the direction, he can be detained again.
🗝 Yeo isn’t the only detainee to be released. Two others were let out in August (although we’re only hearing about it now) after showing “good progress” in their rehabilitation. The government had previously said that they had self-radicalised and were supporters of the Islamic State. One individual has been released on a Restriction Order, which has tough conditions: those on such orders aren’t allowed to travel out of Singapore, change addresses, or switch jobs without approval. They are also not allowed to access the Internet or social media (!!!), issue public statements, give speeches at public gatherings, or contribute/distribute any publication without approval.
🖥 Boo, I got the notification from Facebook that I might have been a target of surveillance-f0r-hire activity. According their investigation, Facebook has found multiple surveillance-for-hire companies trying to target people on behalf of clients who could either be governments or private sector customers — they're alerting almost 50,000 people in over 100 countries. I'm not the only Singaporean, either, Terry Xu of The Online Citizen and some others have also reported receiving this notification.
Looking back: notable WTC issues in 2021
Technology and surveillance: At the beginning of 2021 we realised that we had all been misled about contact-tracing data only being used for contact-tracing. (And guess what, we didn’t get any Committee of Privileges probe into that.) It prompted me to write about consent and technology in early February.
Migrant workers still locked up: As 2021 draws to a close, migrant workers are still largely confined to their worksites and dormitories. It’s cruel and inhumane. I wrote about what we should have learnt from Singapore’s largest humanitarian crisis.
Structural racism: Racist incidents went viral on social media this year, although anyone who has been paying attention will tell you that these were just more public manifestations of long-standing bigotry. Are the PAP’s reactions good enough, especially considering how much power they have?
University drama: Covid has been a pain in the butt for another year, especially for these NTU university professors and students who got stranded abroad. And then the bomb about the closure of Yale-NUS College dropped on us.
The fight for meaningful changes: It has been a real privilege to meet and get to know Cecilia, who lost her precious son this year and is channeling her energies towards demanding real change to juvenile justice and drug policy in Singapore.
#SaveNagaenthran: I’m so glad that Nagen will live to see a new year. But the fight to save him continues. For his family, it has been such an unimaginably tough time.
Thank you for reading! Feel free to forward this on to anyone you think might be interested. 🙏🏼
We, The Citizens Newsletter
Join the newsletter to receive the latest updates in your inbox.