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New law to manage public order in Little India will be "tightly scoped"

A temporary new law aimed at allowing authorities to continue with measures to maintain public order in Little India following last December's riot will be scoped tightly and targeted specifically at dealing with issues within that area.

SINGAPORE: A temporary new law aimed at allowing authorities to continue with measures to maintain public order in Little India following last December's riot will be scoped tightly and targeted specifically at dealing with issues within that area.

Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean said this in a ministerial statement in Parliament on Monday, as he gave a detailed account of the riot in Little India on December 8 last year and subsequent measures to deal with the incident.

The Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill was introduced in Parliament to enact the new law.

Under the new law, a designated area in Little India will be termed a "special zone".

There will be a general prohibition against the sale, supply, and consumption of alcohol within this area.

A permit regime will be introduced to allow such activities to be carried out under specific conditions.

It will also be an offence to possess a prohibited item, such as a weapon or anything deemed to be a threat to public order, within the zone.

There will be greater powers given to police to deal pre-emptively and decisively with potential public order threats in the special zone.

For instance, officers will be empowered to inspect and interview any persons who enter the zone for alcohol or prohibited items.

Officers will also have powers to exclude or ban persons from entering the special zone for specified durations if the presence or action of this person is deemed to threaten public order.

Police will be given powers to cancel or suspend any business licence of someone who contravenes or is suspected of contravening the law.

The new laws will be temporary. The Bill proposes that the law be valid for one year until the Committee of Inquiry (COI) on the Little India riot comes up with longer term measures in its report.

The COI is expected to submit a report of its proceedings, findings and recommendations to Mr Teo by June this year.

The riot broke out after Indian national Sakthivel Kumaravelu was knocked down and pinned under a private bus. He died at the scene.

Mr Teo described the riot as the "worst public order disturbance in Singapore in more than four decades".

But he also stressed that the incident did not "spread in time or space, and was contained."

Mr Teo said: "The riot, though serious, did not spread to the surrounding neighbourhoods, or other parts of Singapore. It was contained within a particular area in Little India.

"Foreign worker dormitories that night, and workplaces the next day, remained calm and peaceful. Not a single shot was fired that night, and there were no fatalities amongst the rioters, innocent bystanders, or our Home Team officers.

“Police completed their intensive investigations at the incident area overnight, and by 6.45am the next morning, Race Course Road was re-opened to the public. All was calm at the Little India train station, adjacent to the incident area, too.”

Recounting the events of the night, Mr Teo said the entire situation was brought under control within two hours of the start of the incident.

The mob dispersed when Special Operations Command officers moved in, slightly after an hour after the incident broke out.

Action has been taken against 295 persons.

Twenty-five have been charged with instigating the riot.

Fifty-seven, assessed to have knowingly joined or continued to participate in the riot, have been repatriated.

Mr Teo said it was his decision to have this group sent back to their home countries.

He said: "The Attorney-General's Chambers reviewed the evidence in each case, and decided to administer a stern warning to each of the 57 persons.

“I, as the Minister for Home Affairs, then decided (based on the statutory powers vested in me under the Immigration Act) that they should be repatriated. Their visit passes were then cancelled by the Controller of Immigration and they were repatriated.”

213 others, whose involvement was assessed to be passive and incidental, were issued formal police advisories. They can continue to remain and work in Singapore.

Mr Teo said authorities had originally arrested and charged 35 persons but charges against 10 of them were dropped, after the Attorney-General's Chambers reviewed further evidence.

This, he said,"shows due process at work".

All 25 persons facing a court trial have been offered pro-bono counsel under the Law Society's Criminal Legal Aid Scheme.

Mr Teo said: "The riot on the night of December 8 was the first in several decades. Because we have enjoyed peace for so many years, almost none of our Home Team officers, especially our national servicemen, had experienced riots before.

“Nonetheless, they performed their duties under difficult circumstances, contained a rapidly developing situation and restored order within two hours. Our officers then acted expeditiously to identify and deal with the persons involved, and worked closely with other agencies to put in place measures to maintain law and order and restore calm in Little India.”

He added: "Singaporeans did not expect a riot to disrupt their lives, but I am heartened that they responded rationally when the unexpected happened.

“Several came forward to help. Business owners gave their support despite being affected by the restrictions imposed following the incident. Grassroots leaders in the Little India area stepped up to reassure residents, and helped the community to recover.

“I am confident that we will draw useful lessons from this experience and emerge more prepared and stronger -- as one Home Team, as one Singapore."

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