Dealing with terror attacks: Studies show 'gaps' in S'pore's laws

The scene outside the offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Jan 7, 2015, after gunmen launched a deadly attack.
The scene outside the offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Jan 7, 2015, after gunmen launched a deadly attack.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Studying terror attacks overseas has revealed "gaps" in Singapore's laws to deal with such serious incidents, said Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo.

She cited the manhunt following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, where the Boston police issued a voluntary stay-in-place request to residents in Watertown when searching for the suspect. Despite the request, some residents still ventured outdoors and unknowingly affected police operations, she said.

Had a similar manhunt taken place in Singapore, police could not have activated special powers to enforce a curfew in the search area as there was no public disorder, Mrs Teo noted.

This is why the new Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Act is needed, she told Parliament yesterday when she presented the Bill for debate. It was later passed.

Mrs Teo also said Singapore's laws did not allow police to respond as promptly, citing how the theatre of police operations can shift quickly, like in the aftermath of the attack on French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

This is because with the Public Order (Preservation) Act, the Home Affairs Minister would have to make new proclamations to bring the powers to bear in every new incident area when operations shift to a new location.

The new laws will allow the police commissioner to invoke the powers when deemed necessary, after an activation order is given by the minister.

Special powers granted to police also include enforcing a communications stop order that penalises the taking of photos and videos of an incident area when the order is in place.

Mrs Teo noted that in several overseas incidents, police had appealed to the public not to transmit or broadcast videos of ongoing security operations to protect their officers and members of the public.

"But this is usually not effective," she said.

She gave the example of how police pursued the two gunmen from the Charlie Hebdo attack across north-eastern France. On the day police stormed their hiding spot, a third gunman had walked into a Jewish supermarket, taking hostages.

In that case, live news footage showed police gathering outside the store and getting ready to storm the place, she said. "The terrorist had every possibility of watching every move of the police's operation, as it happened."

She added: "These overseas examples show why our laws need updating."

Seow Bei Yi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2018, with the headline 'Dealing with terror attacks: Studies show 'gaps' in S'pore's laws'. Print Edition | Subscribe