Singaporeans must guard against foreign interference in criminal justice system: Faishal

Associate Professor Faishal singled out Lawyers for Liberty for trying to mobilise public opinions. PHOTO: GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - A Malaysian human rights non-governmental organisation (NGO) has tried to intervene in Singapore's criminal justice system and Singaporeans must guard against such foreign interference, Minister of State for Home Affairs Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim said in Parliament on Wednesday (March 9).

Associate Professor Faishal singled out Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) for trying to mobilise public opinions, using baseless accusations to play up the issue of race, to weaken Singaporeans' trust and confidence in the criminal justice system.

He was responding to Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok), who asked for more details on a court application by 17 death row inmates and what can be done to counter foreign interference on sensitive issues such as the death penalty.

On Aug 13 last year, the 17 inmates filed a High Court application seeking declarations that the Attorney-General, in prosecuting them for capital drug offences, had discriminated against them because they were of Malay ethnicity.

On Dec 2, a High Court judge found the allegations to be baseless and dismissed the application, which she said was an abuse of court process. No appeal was filed against this decision.

On Wednesday, Prof Faishal told the House that on the day the application was filed, the inmates' lawyer, in a post on social media, credited an "English Barrister" for assisting him with the application.

The English barrister appears to be associated with a London-based NGO, he said.

Details of the prisoners' affidavit were later published online on a Malaysian news portal even before it was presented as evidence in court - a breach of court protocol.

Prof Faishal said it was revealed that the inmates' lawyer had provided the court papers to a group of foreign lawyers from LFL.

The prisoners, who were all Singaporeans with the exception of one Malaysian, were represented by lawyer M. Ravi.

The leak was mentioned by Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam during the parliamentary debate on the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill in October last year.

Prof Faishal said the affidavit made "completely false, but sensational allegations - designed to grab attention".

"The whole unseemly series of events: Putting up false allegations on affidavit and then leaking it overseas, seems to have been an attempt to weaken public trust in the criminal justice system, stir feelings in our multiracial society, by using foreigners," he said.

Prof Faishal said this was not the only time that LFL has tried to intervene in Singapore's criminal justice process.

In February this year, two other inmates applied to the Court of Appeal, seeking to reopen their cases after their appeals against their death sentences were unsuccessful. LFL attempted to participate in the court hearing as one of the applicants but the bid was dismissed by the court as the NGO had no legal standing to do so.

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Prof Faishal reiterated Mr Shanmugam's earlier speech during the Budget debate that the death penalty remains relevant and important in Singapore's criminal justice system, as a deterrent against serious crimes and to keep Singaporeans and Singapore safe and secure.

"The majority of Singaporeans support the use of the death penalty for serious crimes. While other countries and NGOs may not share the same view as us, this is an issue for Singaporeans to decide," he said.

"We need to build a broader awareness amongst Singaporeans to such foreign interference."

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