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Stunning allegations about executions—what will the authorities say?

Issue 89

Hello from Kaohsiung! My time in Taiwan is going by far too quickly, but it’s time to return to responsible adulting.

A warm welcome to all the Milo Peng Funders who joined us via New Naratif’s flash sale!

Allegations about executions in Singapore

We start this issue with some really alarming allegations. Lawyers For Liberty, a human rights NGO in Malaysia, says that they’ve received information from a Singapore Prison Services officer who’d been involved in carrying out executions.


According to Lawyers For Liberty, this officer says that there’s a procedure in place in case executions don’t go to plan. It apparently involves one officer pulling the body one way, while another officer pulls the rope towards him the other way, and then delivering a forceful kick to the back of the neck to break it.

Needless to say, these are serious, astounding claims. On top of this description of a brutal killing, Lawyers For Liberty also says that prison officers are explicitly told not to divulge information about this.

Information from inside prison is hard to come by, particularly when it comes to the death penalty—much of it is classified under the Official Secrets Act—but this goes so far beyond the worst thing I could ever have imagined happening in prison. I’ve written to the Singapore Prison Service to follow-up on Lawyers For Liberty’s statement, as well as ask for more information about how executions are carried out. I asked in my email that they get back to me by Friday, but I haven’t heard back yet (which, to be honest, doesn’t surprise me). Lawyers For Liberty has also called for a Commission of Inquiry into this. Now we wait for the government’s response.

SDP’s POFMA fight

The High Court hearing into the Singapore Democratic Party’s challenge of the POFMA offers issued against them by Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo began on 16 January. The case was heard in chambers, which means that it wasn’t open to either the public or the media. There isn’t any particular conspiracy surrounding it; it’s just that originating summons (the type of submission that SDP made to the court) are usually heard in chambers since they don’t require things like witnesses/testimonies. The judge ruled that there was no particular reason for the case to be heard in open court. All lawful, but disappointing, given the public interest in the use of POFMA. Not to mention the bad optics.

The SDP are ownself representing ownself here, and are arguing that it’s inappropriate for POFMA to be used against them since the matter has to do with the interpretation of data, and not “deliberate falsehoods”. As I’m writing this, the hearing has continued into its second day.

What Pink Dot tells us about activism and politics in Singapore

This is a personal little segment (and replacing the usual New Naratif links section) because this week New Naratif published my two-parter on Pink Dot and its development. Part One covers the early days of Pink Dot, questioning where pragmatic resistance ends and respectability politics begins. Part Two looks at the evolution of Pink Dot—how it was affected by political shifts that took place during and after the 2011 general election, and how the dynamics of political power still get in the way.

I’ve written about Pink Dot before, but have wanted to do a deep dive for some time. When I attended Pink Dot last year and heard them declare themselves a protest, I knew it was time to get my act together and write something at last. I sat down for a long interview with Paerin, then started piecing it together, and just… kept going. I’d initially pitched this to the rest of the New Naratif team as a 2,000-word piece, but it kept growing and growing as I included context and background. Ultimately the story of Pink Dot, like anything else in Singapore, can’t be seen in a vacuum—it’s affected by politics, by society, by events that happen around the world.

I’m so grateful to be able to have something like this published, because it covers all the aspects of Singapore—human rights, civil society and activism, politics, democracy—that I’m most interested in. I hope you enjoy reading it, and do take note of Joy Ho’s beautiful illustrations! The header images for Part One and Part Two merge to form a beautiful panorama.

Let’s get real about racism

A Chinese Singaporean artist, Jonathan Lim, was removed from an exhibition after his racist outburst on social media went viral. I saw lots of comments about it on social media, but haven’t followed the whole thing very closely, so I’m going to point you to much better voices:

Race Tuition Centre is a newsletter on race and racism in Singapore. It kicks off with a rundown of this racist incident, then follows up with a really important post about apologies. Subscribe subscribe subscribe.

And in case we think this Jon thing is an isolated incident, it isn’t.

Still got some more

Read this piece by Associate Professor Ian Chong about foreign influence and Singapore: it’s much more helpful in terms of thinking about principles and approaches than random finger-pointing at activists.

This op-ed about homelessness is thought-provoking, highlighting a discussion we should be having more. Note particularly the bit about the Destitute Persons Act, and think about how we stereotype and patronise others.