SINGAPORE - Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said he and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had refrained from making substantive comments on the death of 14-year-old Benjamin Lim "out of respect for (his) family", and because the matter was the subject of a Coroner's Inquiry (CI).
"Once the coroner announces his findings, both facts and conclusions, then people can offer their criticisms, viewpoints, comments," said Mr Shanmugam in Parliament on Tuesday (March 1).
Several Members of Parliament raised questions about issues related to Benjamin's death on Jan 26. MPs Desmond Choo and Christopher De Souza asked whether the Ministry could have addressed the issue in a more timely manner, given the amount of speculation in social media.
Highlighting the rule of sub judice, which sets out what can and cannot be said when an inquiry is pending, Mr Shanmugam said that the police "were right in not responding" out of respect for the CI process.
He also criticised several comments that have been made on the issue, saying these could have broke sub judice rules. He even went so far as to call some of these "falsehoods".
The delay was also out of respect for Benjamin and his family, to give them time and space to grieve.
After the incident, Benjamin's family wrote an open letter, signed by his father, which contradicted a few points in a statement by police. "We can understand that the family, in their grief, may genuinely believe some things, and perhaps even assert them in public," added Mr Shanmugam. "But we chose not to respond. These matters can be dealt with at the CI."
"The police could have immediately rebutted the family's statement," he said.
He highlighted how the police could have released CCTV footage of the alleged molest incident, and released Benjamin's statement to the police.
But that would not have been the "right thing to do", Mr Shanmugam stressed.
CCTV footage would also not be released, he said, "out of respect for Benjamin's memory" and "to help the young girl".
In the wake of the teenager's death, people raised questions as well on the role of schools and whether they should allow police to take students without their parents' consent or an accompanying adult.
Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said in Parliament on Tuesday that he too chose not to publicly respond to such queries earlier for the same reasons as Mr Shanmugam.