Detention without trial extended for 5 more years

SINGAPORE - An act that allows for detention without trial was extended for five more years, starting Oct 21 next year.

This is the 13th time the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA) has been passed since it was introduced in 1955 to fight organised crime, but it did not come without lengthy debate.

Eight Members of Parliament, the majority of whom are lawyers by profession, voiced their thoughts about the controversial act, asking questions about its scope and lack of transparency.

It was used most recently last month to detain four suspected football match-fixers, among them believed to be Dan Tan Seet Eng, 48, the alleged ringleader of a global syndicate.

MPs Hri Kumar Nair, Sylvia Lim and Pritam Singh questioned whether the alleged offences justified the use of the Act.

Said Mr Nair, the MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC: "Is match-fixing, regardless of how widespread it is, a sufficiently serious offence? It is of a different order from crimes involving secret societies, drug trafficking or loan sharking. Match-fixing is essentially cheating, and it is driven by the gambling industry."

There is no threat to life, limb or security, he noted.

Voicing similar doubts, Ms Lim, the Workers' Party MP for Aljunied GRC, said: "The question remains, how exactly does football corruption in Europe threaten the public safety, peace and good order to justify the use of the Act?"

She also noted the alleged match-fixers had been dealt with through the courts both here and overseas.

In his reply, Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran defended the use of the Act to detain the alleged match-fixers, given that the crime shares "some of the most egregious characteristics that render them a threat to public order" with other syndicated crimes.

"They are also known to resort to violence and other means to settle scores against those who stand in their way," he added.

Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean said last month: "Illegal football match-fixing activities are carried out by organised criminal syndicates with complex and layered structures motivated by financial gain."

MPs also commented on a lack of transparency of the number of detainees under the Act, to which Mr Iswaran said detention statistics will be released on a "more regular basis", as part of the Prisons' annual statistics report.

Mr Iswaran, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Trade and Industry, said there were 209 CLTPA detainees as of Oct 31 - a 36 per cent decrease from the 326 as of Dec 31, 2009, the year the Act was last extended.

Of these 209 detainees, two-thirds were imprisoned for gang-related activities, a quarter for unlicensed moneylending, and the rest for drug trafficking and other syndicated crimes.

Between 2008 and 2012, an average of 43 detention orders were issued each year, although the number issued annually has decreased, with 17 last year, he said.

A majority of detainees are jailed for less than four years, though one current detainee has been imprisoned for almost 11 years for drug trafficking.

Meanwhile, close to 300 police supervision orders were issued in lieu of detention between 2009 and Oct 31 this year. This includes people who have been released from prison detention.

They are, among other things, required to report to the police and observe a curfew.

Recidivism rates of detainees have generally been lower than that of the broader prison population. Mr Iswaran said this could be because of the police supervision regime.

He emphasised: "Prosecuting offenders in court is, and will always be, the first and preferred course of action."

The Act is used judiciously "as a last resort" in cases where witnesses may not be keen to testify in court for fear of reprisals.

Calling it a "critical" part of the justice system, Mr Iswaran said: "An evolving criminal threat is the reason we cannot let our guard down, although our crime rates have fallen for several years.

"They are evolving their modus operandi and becoming more sophisticated to evade capture and prosecution. Every time an arrest is made, the syndicates quickly adapt and adjust their operations in response."

The eight MPs who spoke all voiced support for the Act, even while some questioned its most recent use.

Ms Lim said while she looked forward "to the day this Act can be thrown away", it was with "a heavy heart" that she was unable to oppose the extension, given the current crime risk.

Ms Lim highlighted, as did other MPs, developments across the Causeway, where crime had escalated after a repeal of the Emergency Ordinance in 2011 saw the release of 2,700 criminals.

Some 74 people were shot and killed in Malaysia between January and September this year, Mr Nair said. To curb worsening crime, amendments were passed in Malaysia's laws to restore detention provisions last month.

Ms Lim voiced concerns that without the CLTPA, there may be "spillover effects".

Mr Iswaran said: "In Singapore, we cannot afford to merely react to the situation after the impact of a criminal threat has become fully apparent."

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