Police permits needed for all public meetings in Little India zone

Police permits needed for all public meetings in Little India zone
Policemen stand on the street in Little India on December 9, 2013, following a riot the day before by South Asian workers in the worst outbreak of violence in more than 40 years in the tightly controlled city-state.

From today, any public assembly held within a demarcated zone of Little India will require a police permit, even if held indoors.

The change takes effect at the same time that a new law to help keep order in the area, called the the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Act, goes into force for the next 12 months.

Previously, people could have indoor meetings involving the public as long as the organisers and speakers are Singaporeans, and the event is not racially or religiously sensitive. The organiser or his agent also has to be present.

But the amendment to the Public Order (Exempt Assemblies and Processions) Order - which applies to just Little India - has meant a meeting such as the public forum held by human rights group Maruah last December would now require a police permit. Asked yesterday, Maruah vice-president Siew Kum Hong said "these sweeping new restrictions unjustifiably restrict Singaporeans' civil liberties".

But The Straits Times understands that indoor meetings held by places of worship, societies and other organisations involving their own members would be exempted from the revised law.

Besides the changes to public assembly in Little India, a new law to keep the peace also kicks in today. Passed in Parliament on Feb 18, the new law replaces the Public Order (Preservation) Act that has been invoked on a weekly basis since the Dec 8 riot last year.

The new law gives police a focused set of powers, and lets the authorities "continue to take calibrated measures to maintain public order in Little India", the Ministry of Home Affairs said yesterday. The wide-ranging powers under the earlier Act "will no longer apply to Little India henceforth", it added.

With the change, police will no longer be able to impose curfews, impose reporting requirements on persons or use deadly force on subjects who resist arrest, among other things.

But there will be no changes to the current restrictions against the sale, supply and consumption of alcohol in Little India. These will apply to the same area as previously proclaimed, although the Act will incorporate existing laws to empower the authorities to search anyone entering the zone.

They can also suspend or revoke a range of permits and licences on short notice if a licensee flouts the alcohol ban.

Little India businesses that sell alcohol said police visited them last week to brief them. They were also issued a sign that explains the new law in all four official languages and were told to display it.

But Mr S Rajagopal, vice-chair of the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association, is worried that the signage "may affect sales because it will prevent people from going into the shop".

Ms Denise Phua, MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC which oversees the area, said her residents were generally happy that current alcohol controls remain unchanged.

Both the new law and the permit rules for indoor meetings will be valid for 12 months before the introduction of longer-term measures taking into account recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry looking into the riot and an ongoing public consultation on liquor licensing.

yanliang@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 1.

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