SINGAPORE- Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean told Parliament yesterday that he made the call to repatriate 57 workers involved in last month's Little India riot.
DPM Teo, based on the statutory powers vested in him as Home Affairs Minister, decided to do so on top of the Attorney-General's Chambers' (AGC) move to issue stern warnings to the workers.
"Foreign workers must know that if they flout our rules they face repatriation," he said in a ministerial statement on the Dec8 riot. "We need to be strict about this, to maintain the safety and security of our society."
The 57 workers had "knowingly joined or continued to participate in the riot" despite being ordered to disperse by the police - an offence under the Penal Code, he added.
In doing so, they impeded riot control and emergency rescue operations.
Foreigners do not have an "inherent legal right to work and stay here", said DPM Teo, adding that they can do so only with the State's permission.
Human rights activists have taken issue with the workers' "arbitrary" deportation, claiming they did not have the opportunity to defend themselves in court.
But the police, DPM Teo told Parliament, had relied on evidence from forensic examination, video footage, photographs and officer and witness accounts to determine the culpability of various individuals.
The evidence against each person was reviewed by the AGC before decisions were made.
Mr Teo also told the House that the authorities had originally arrested and charged 35 persons, but the charges against 10 were withdrawn after the AGC reviewed further evidence.
"This shows due process at work," the minister said.
The 57 deported workers' actions also made them "undesirable" and "prohibited" immigrants under the Immigration Act.
Still, those charged or served with repatriation orders were given full consular access to the high commissions of India and Bangladesh.
Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) and Nominated MP Laurence Lien had asked about the investigation process and the basis for the authorities' action against those involved.
In his speech, DPM Teo also addressed MPs' questions on the Committee of Inquiry (COI) looking into the riot and the alcohol ban in Little India.
The COI members, he said, are "respected persons with many years of experience in the fields of law and security".
"They are familiar with worker issues, as well as relations between foreign workers and the local population," he added.
Seven MPs, including Moulmein-Kallang GRC's Ms Denise Phua, whose ward covers Little India, asked about liquor licences in Little India, and if the Government would consider implementing similar measures to restrict the sale and consumption of alcohol in other parts of Singapore.
Mr Teo said the Ministry of Home Affairs had already started on a comprehensive review of Singapore's liquor licensing regime before the riot.
The authorities are also reviewing regulations to tighten liquor control at specific places, for example, where large numbers of foreign workers congregate.
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