Law targeting gangs that allows detention without trial extended for 15th time

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SINGAPORE: Parliament on Wednesday (Apr 3) voted to extend a law that allows the government to detain without trial people with links to certain criminal activity, especially gangs and secret societies.

This is the 15th time that the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act has been extended since it was enacted in 1955. It was last extended in 2018 for five years, until Oct 20 this year.

Opposition lawmakers from the Workers’ Party (WP) joined the People’s Action Party in voting for the extension.

This was a shift from the WP’s position in 2018 when it voted against the extension and other amendments to the Act. 

The Progress Singapore Party (PSP) stressed the need for more safeguards against potential abuse of power, but it was not clear how the party voted on Wednesday.

“Our objection to the Bill has been conveyed by Mr Leong Mun Wai in his speech. We did not take the additional step to register our dissent again,” said a PSP spokesperson.

Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim said during the debate that the Act was first introduced in the 1950s, when gang activity was rampant in Singapore, and still remains relevant today.

Powers to detain those associated with certain criminal activities are "exercised carefully and sparingly”, said Dr Faishal, describing it as “an instrument of last resort”.

“The (Home Affairs) Minister must be satisfied that detaining a person under the Act is necessary in the interests of public safety, peace and good order. The power to detain someone under the Act is used only when prosecution is not viable, for example, because victims and witnesses refuse to testify for fear of reprisal,” he explained.

The number of detention and supervision orders issued under the Act has declined over the years.

From Oct 21, 2019, to Dec 31, 2023, 123 individuals were dealt with under the Act, with 86 detention orders and 37 police supervision orders issued.

“This was fewer than the number of cases in the same period of the previous term of the Act,” noted Dr Faishal.

“Even so, the number of orders issued is significant and the Act continues to be necessary and relevant, not o...

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