It’s been an eventful few weeks with the HIV data leak affecting thousands of Singaporeans with HIV, announcements of sweeping changes to the penal code, new laws and amendments being considered, and election campaigns being kicked off. Amidst the flurry of news, do watch out for our next issue – the Budget Special, in which we will be consolidating key proposals and debates.
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HIV Registry Data Leak
Confidential information of 14,200 people with HIV was stolen and leaked online by American fraudster Mikhy Farrera-Brochez, according to the Ministry of Health. The information, which was obtained from the HIV Registry, included details like their names, contact details and medical information. Farrera-Brochez had gained access to such information through his partner, Ler Teck Siang, a Singaporean doctor who was head of MOH’s National Public Health Unit from March 2012 to May 2013.
MOH first learnt that Farrera-Brochez had access to such information in May 2016, and subsequently made a police report. They then learnt in May 2018 that he still had part of the records, so they made another police report and notified the affected people. They were then alerted this year by the police that Farrera-Brochez had leaked the information online.
Observers and MPs have questioned why MOH did not go public with the information that Farrera-Brochez had such confidential records in 2016. In response, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong asserted that there was no “cover-up” of the situation, and that they had made a “judgment call” not to make a public announcement as they had “good reason” to believe the information had been secured and would not be leaked. However, the current situation was different as Ferrera-Brochez had provided evidence he possessed the entire HIV Registry and had provided the link to a non-government party.
In a further twist of events, Farrera-Brochez rejected the notion that he had leaked the information and claimed he was being scapegoated by MOH in an interview with Vice News. However, Vice News also noted that it was impossible to verify many details that Farrera-Brochez had provided, and Rice Media noted the inconsistencies in his story. MOH is now taking legal action against Farrera-Brochez in US courts.
Jolovan Wham jailed after refusing to pay $3200 fine for Skype call with HK Activist
Jolovan Wham, a social worker and activist, was fined $3,200 over a public assembly that he organised two years ago that did not have a permit, as well as for refusing to sign a police statement. This public assembly was a live speech by Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong in November 2016 titled “Civil Disobedience and Social Movements” held at the Agora. The charge of refusing to sign a police statement stemmed from Wham’s refusal to sign a witness statement that he gave to the police on the grounds that he only signs what he has a copy of.
Wham indicated that he would not pay the fine and would instead serve 16 days of jail time in default. In his defence, Wham’s lawyer argued that his constitutional right of freedom of assembly was breached, and that the event was a discussion. Apart from this charge, Wham also faces other charges regarding an alleged protest he staged in a train, as well as an alleged public assembly outside Changi Prison.
WP renews call to lift legal immunity for MINDEF
In the wake of several military training deaths in the past year, the Worker’s Party renewed their call for the government to review the Government Proceedings Act and lift the immunity that prevents Mindef and commanders from being sued for safety breaches. WP Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan had earlier made this proposal in 2016. WP Chief Pritam Singh argued that this would inject greater accountability in military training. To deal with concerns that this would compromise training, Singh argued that the immunity would only not apply when commanders show a wilful disregard for safety consderations. In response, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said that he did not want people to sue the Government before commanders and servicemen are held accountable for safety breaches, and noted that they do “go to jail” for their actions.
Ex-Keppel officer took more than $700K in bribes
A senior procurement officer at Keppel Shipyard, Neo Kian Siong, pled guilty to 54 charges of corruption and money laundering. He was involved in a 14 year scheme in which he obtained kickbacks for helping suppliers win orders with Keppel Shipyard. These bribes amounted to more than $700K over 14 years, which he used to finance his car and house loans. For each count of corruption, he can be jailed for up to five years and fined up to $100K.
Sweeping changes made to penal code
The first major Penal Code review in over a decade has seen a slew of changes to enhance the protection of women, minors and other vulnerable groups.
Attempted suicide will be decriminalised. The Penal Code Review Committee has stated that treatment, rather than prosecution, is the appropriate response to people who are so distressed that they are driven to take their own lives. Amendment to other acts such as the the Police Force Act, the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Act and the Criminal Procedure Code — has also been suggested for the authorities to strengthen their response to suicidal persons. For instance, the Police Force Act may be amended to empower the police to arrest and bring the individual who attempted suicide, and who is believed to be dangerous to himself or others, to a medical practitioner for assessment.
Some of the changes involve expanding the definitions of existing offences to make them more inclusive. The proposed changes by the Criminal Law Reform Bill seek to make the definitions of rape and sexual assault gender-neutral, so that people of all genders can be considered victims of these offences. The definition of rape will also be broadened to include non-consensual penetration of the anus or the mouth using one’s penis, in addition to removing marital rape immunity. Currently, the definition of rape is highly gendered as it defines rape as the “non-consensual penetration of a woman’s vagina with a man’s penis without her consent”, and also excludes spousal rape as. The definition of sexual assault will also be expanded to include instances where a woman forces a man to penetrate her vagina, anus or mouth with his penis, whereas the existing definition only includes penetration by other body parts.
Engaging in sexual activity with such minors –who are above the legal age of consent, but are not legal adults — in the context of exploitative relationships will also be criminalised. To determine if a relationship is exploitative, the court will consider a non-exhaustive list of factors such as the age difference between the offender and the victim, the age of the minor, and the degree of influence the offender has over the victim. Certain relationships will be presumed to be exploitative such as that of teacher-student and doctor-patient and parent-child. These presumptions can be rebutted by the accused who will have to show that he did not exploit the minor.
New offences have also been proposed to criminalise emerging crime trendssuch as revenge porn, voyeurism, stealthing and “cyber flashing” (where images of genitalia are sent to recipients without their consent).
People who commit crimes against vulnerable victims such as domestic workers and disabled persons will receive twice the maximum punishment for similar crimes against others. The scope of vulnerable victims is also set expand with the introduction of three new groups: children under the age of 14, those with whom the offender has a close relationship, and those the offender has an intimate relationship with.
Singapore considers laws to counter foreign intervention
Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong raised the consideration of new laws to counter foreign interference in light of various countries being affected by foreign interference in elections and politics and a spike in anonymous accounts posting comments on social media after the recent dispute between Singapore and Malaysia. These anonymous accounts were said to “give and create an artificial impression to netizens of the opposition to Singapore’s position at a time of heightened bilateral difficulties”, to which Tong claimed measures to prevent public opinion being swayed by fake informants and information would be necessary. He reiterated that Singapore is pursuing a two-pronged strategy to counter foreign interference via legislation and increasing public awareness, and that the current legal framework is “outmoded against modern and technologically sophisticated tactics” – requiring updates and laws to tackle new threats.
Cat welfare society strikes back at Lee Bee Wah
The Cat Welfare Society (CWS) criticised Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah and her fellow parliamentarians for mocking community caregivers and the cats that they care for. Lee Bee Wah gave a speech raising the issue of “big, big rats” running and “dancing about” in her ward, blaming the cat-feeders for giving rise to pests in the community and evoking laughter from fellow parliamentarians. Rats ate the food set out for the cats during the stipulated 2-hour period agreed upon between CWS and NEA – which supposedly impeded the ‘Rats Task Force’ Lee Bee Wah mobilised in solving the problem.
CWS then released a statement decrying irresponsible cat-caregiving and the disrespectful laughter of parliamentarians during the speech, as community cats and their caregivers do not deserve mockery or threats of extermination of cats. In response, Lee Bee Wah clarified her lack of opposition to animals and activists, while re-emphasising her stance on removal of the two-week feeding period for communities with rat issues.
Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) officially launches election campaign
The SDP kicked off its campaign on February 23. 26 hours before the event, they were told that the venue, operated by Kingdom Community Church Ventures (KCCV) Pte Ltd, could no longer be utilised due to an inspection by Jurong Town Corporation (JTC). The SDP eventually conducted their kick-off at the Mandarin Orchard. The SDP said that it will campaign in all the constituencies it had previously contested, and will present its policy papers on housing and the cost of living next month, followed by two more policy papers on healthcare and population issues in May. In July it will roll out a policy handbook containing proposals on issues ranging from education and ministerial salaries. At the kick off, SDP spoke on wealth taxes, labour issues, and plans on addressing climate change. KCCV has since accepted responsibility for the booking cancellation, calling it a misunderstanding.
Food for thought…
Share your views on the proposed amendments for the extension of Children & Young Persons Act via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org by March 21! Find out more about MSF’s proposed amendments here
Han Fook Kwang: Can we expect our leaders to rise above bureaucracy and talk openly about our problems? If you don’t have ST Premium, here’s the link to the full article
Teo You Yenn pens an essay on how inequality is masked by individualism and isolation in Singapore
An interesting take by an Associate Professor of International Relations who specialises in Singaporean politics and history
Women’s quest for justice and equality – a short history.