Singapore bus strike: Who are the police investigating here?

Feb 07, 2013 8:43PM UTC

Who knew a peaceful strike by a group of bus drivers could lead to such a fuss?

The bus strike by over 100 SMRT bus drivers from China led to 29 employees being repatriated, and five arrested and charged for their part in the strike. One, Bao Fengshan, pleaded guilty, served six weeks in jail and was repatriated. He did not have legal representation. The other four have engaged lawyers and are awaiting trial.

Two of the bus drivers, He Jun Ling and Liu Xiang Ying, granted interviews to filmmaker Lynn Lee. In their interviews, they alleged that they had been beaten and threatened by the police during their interrogations. Liu claimed that the police had told him, “Do you know I can dig a hole and bury you? No one will be able to find you.”

Excerpts from the interview alarmed members of civil society, who swiftly put together a statement calling for an independent inquiry into the claims. The Ministry of Home Affairs then launched an investigation, saying that the Internal Affairs Office within the Singapore Police Force would be “approaching bus drivers, the producers of the video and other related parties to seek their assistance in its investigation.”

The investigation apparently began with plainclothes policemen confiscating Lee’s hard drive containing footage of the interviews. In a Facebook status update, Lee wrote, “The IO (who seemed nice enough) couldn’t tell me which section of the CPC allowed him to seize the drive and had to make a few calls to check.”

On 6 February, Lee spent two-and-a-half hours at the police headquarters talking to the police about the case. This morning, more police showed up at her house, wanting to seize her phone, laptop and iMac. Lee wrote on Facebook: “I asked how the three devices were relevant to their investigation as they already had the hard drive containing all the footage of my interviews with the ex-SMRT drivers. Superintendent Goh said it was ‘necessary’ and ‘related’ and that while it was ‘unpleasant’ for me, he just had to take my property. Again, I asked how my phone was even relevant to the investigation. He couldn’t give me a specific answer. Neither did he seem to know the relevant provisions under which he was acting, asking us to allow him to seize the items first, then make any complaint we had to the ‘relevant authorities’ later.”

After calling her lawyer, it was agreed that the police would not seize her property, but that Lee would go to their headquarters in the afternoon and have her things examined in her presence. At the time of writing, she is still in police headquarters, and has been there for over five hours. In that time, her laptop has been taken apart and her phone temporarily seized. Her bathroom breaks have also been supervised.

“[T]hey are looking for video files that don’t exist!” she writes in a WhatsApp message. “My laptop is too small to handle big video clips or FCP. And there is no more video of interviews with the men. Talk about a fishing expedition.”

“My computer feels raped. They can see everything including online activity and deleted documents,” she later added. The police also went through her phone records, and even asked for the password to her email account (but were refused).

Although Lee also said that the police were “not unpleasant” and were “nice to me”, this whole episode raises alarming questions. How is combing through a filmmaker’s private laptop and mobile phone relevant to the investigation? Why must they look through her online history and deleted documents, or her phone records?

Is as much rigour being put into interrogating the officers who have allegedly abused the ex-bus drivers? Or is this really just a ‘fishing expedition’ on those perceived to be on the ex-bus drivers’ ‘side’?

What – or who – are the police actually investigating here?

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