Human rights activist Teo Soh Lung has shared more about her brush with police officers who raided her home as they investigate her for violating election regulations relating to the Bukit Batok by-election.
Teo is accused of posting material during Cooling Off Day that promoted a particular party or candidate.
According to rules laid down by the Elections Department, individuals can only share their opinions in their personal capacity.
During the raid, police took Teo’s computers and handphone.
Police officers did the same to socio-political activist Roy Ngerng as well.
Ngerng and alternative media outlet The Independent Singapore are both accused of similar offences in a complaint filed by the ELD.
This is Teo’s tale of her harrowing experience:
“Last evening (2 June), I received news from my lawyers that that the police are going to return my computers and mobile. I take strong objection to paragraph 2 of their letter which said:
‘However, if your client is now willing to co-operate by attending personally at the station to assist in the extraction of the relevant information, the Police are prepared to return the items provided that all the necessary information has been retrieved and after your client has been interviewed and has provided a statement and signed the same.’
The above statement implied that I had not been cooperative. This is totally untrue. Following the receipt of their letter at 9.55 pm on Saturday, 28 May, I attended the interview on Tuesday, 31 May at 10 am at the Central Division, Police Cantonment Complex. I gave a full statement regarding the four postings on Cooling Off Day as the Election Department had alleged that I had breached the Parliamentary Elections Act. I denied then, and now categorically state, that I have not infringed any law. I told them that it was my constitutional right to free speech and expression.
I was asked if there were other users of my Facebook account. I told them that I was and am the sole administrator. I had expected the recording of my statement to take an hour at most but it went on for two hours. As it was past noon, I asked for a lunch break. The investigating officer initially agreed that I could take a break and then resume after lunch. However, I think she was instructed otherwise subsequently and said that she had to complete the recording of my statement. Later she said that it was police protocol that the full statement be printed and read over to me but I could sign it after lunch and after correcting any errors.
The statement was subsequently printed and read to me. It was after that was done that the investigating officer received further instructions. She said that she had to seize my mobile phone and computer at home. I protested because my mobile and computer have nothing to do with the four postings. I had already admitted that I was responsible for the posts and there was absolutely no necessity for them to examine my computer and mobile phone.
More officers then entered the room to threaten me. They told me that if I refused to hand over my mobile, I would be arrested, handcuffed and brought home to have my computer seized. They cited sections 34 and 35 of the Criminal Procedure Code which allegedly justify their right to seize properties in the course of investigation because the offence I was alleged to have committed was an “arrestable offence” and no search warrant was required. There were 4 or 5 officers in the room and more outside. Against my wish, I was escorted out of the interrogation room and into a waiting police car at the ground level carpark. I was led to the rear passenger seat and sandwiched between the investigating officer and another female officer and driven home. In the front seats were two male officers. I still did not have lunch.
Reaching the car park of my block, I discovered that another police car had arrived before us and there were four plainclothes officers. They introduced themselves as the forensic team. Seven or eight officers then followed me to my flat. Fortunately for me, my lawyer, Ms Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss and friends had arrived earlier than the police.
The first thing the forensic team did when they entered my flat was to photograph my living room from the door. Everyone had to stand clear to the side so that the entire room was unobstructed. It was clearly an invasion of my privacy. What has my living room got to do with the four postings on my Facebook? What do the police intend to do with the photographs taken of my living room? Is it their intention to raid my flat in future?
I DEMAND AN EXPLANATION NOW. I WILL INSTRUCT MY LAWYER TO DEMAND THAT ALL PHOTOGRAPHS OF MY LIVING ROOM BE RETURNED TO ME AND THE ORIGINALS IN THE POLICE DATA CARD BE DESTROYED.
After photographing the living room, the police then proceeded to photograph my computers. They removed the CPU, pasting seals over every port. They then put it into a bag. Next they wanted my mobile phone. My mobile phone contains more than just my Facebook application. Turning on my mobile automatically leads to emails, contacts, Whatsapps and various other applications. While at the police station my request to delete applications and emails from my mobile phone was not allowed, I was permitted to do so at home. And so I deleted these programs and contacts even though I have the nagging feeling that the police would be able to access whatever information and programs I had deleted.
Finally, they turned to seize my laptop. When they first entered my flat, I had told them that my laptop had nothing to do with my Facebook. In my statement given to the investigating officer, I had said that I used either my desktop or mobile to access my Facebook. The investigating officer said that if I could show them that I did not use my laptop for Facebook postings, they would not seize it. But they then changed their minds. The police insisted that I should hand over my laptop. I was very angry at this point because they had again broken their word. It was not the first time that they had done so. They sealed up the ports and placed my laptop into another bag.
The raid carried out at my flat by seven or eight police officers was terrifying. Many of them used cameras and recording devices. It was an ugly experience and I wish that no one will ever need to go through what I went through. I am quite sure that Roy Ngerng had undergone the same experience. He and his parents must have been so traumatised.
When I left my home in the morning to go to the Cantonment Police Complex, I never thought that the police would use the excuse of investigating an offence under the Parliamentary Elections Act to conduct a raid at my home and take photographs of my flat. I am shocked.
After the law enforcement officers left my flat, my friends and I did our best to protect the privacy of my friends. We changed passwords to email accounts, deleted contacts and finally removed my entire Gmail and Yahoo accounts. I lost several thousands of emails and archival materials. I also deleted other applications.
Salvaging and protecting my friends’ privacy was uppermost in my mind. I checked with my lawyer Choo Zheng Xi as to how long the police would take to return my properties. Precedents showed that it could be between 3 to 12 months. It was obvious that I would have to buy a new computer after the forensic team had gone through my devices.
After some thought, I decided to fit my old mobile phone with a phone card so that at least, family and friends could still contact me. I went to Singtel to enquire how I could disable my mobile without affecting the Facebook account. I was advised that I could terminate my account and pay about $35 or temporarily suspend my card at $10 per month. The effect of such suspension would be to temporarily disable my mobile. I therefore suspended my account and hope the forensic team would not tamper with my contacts. I also check on the price of laptops. They are costly.
Although the police informed me that they would return my equipment, I am not rejoicing because I have already been inconvenienced. I am not thrilled because I suspect that my devices have already been tampered with. So I will have to buy a new desktop and laptop and a new mobile phone. But I will collect my devices sometime next week as I will probably be subjected to another round of interrogation. I am too exhausted for that now.
Is Singapore a police state? The government has too much power. It can use the law to intrude into our private lives, enter premises, take photographs and videos of our homes on the pretext of investigating crimes. It can do all these with impunity. But do we do nothing and let them continue to deprive us of our privacy and rights? Are we so powerless?
We have lost many of our fundamental rights such freedom of speech, expression and assembly because we have not been vigilant in the past. We have trusted our government. We have to decide now if we want to stand up for our rights or let the government continue to pass laws and enforce them against our interest till we are left with nothing.
When the Election Department issued a joint statement with the police justifying their action (The Straits Times 2 June), doing something fundamentally wrong has already become second nature to those in power. The Election Department had lodged a police complaint against Roy Ngerng and me. The police are supposed to investigate the complaint and decide if we have committed an offence. But even before completing its investigation, the police have already stood together with the Election Department.
CAN I EXPECT A FAIR-MINDED AND INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION?”