Charged bus drivers allege “slapping, punching” by police

[UPDATED on 31 Jan: adding statement from civil society groups, individuals]

Civil society groups and individuals have come forward to urge the Ministry of Home Affairs to conduct an inquiry into allegations by two former SMRT bus drivers that police officers abused them.

Charged for their involvement in a strike late last November over unequal pay, two of the four, He Jun Ling and Liu Xiangying, said that they were physically abused and threatened by their interrogators when in police custody in the days after the strike, which was later deemed by the government to be illegal.

A collective statement from the groups and individuals said the allegations "cast serious doubt on the credibility and veracity of the ex-drivers' statements to the police and the entire investigation process".

"As matters pertaining to the Singapore Police Force fall under the jurisdiction of the (MHA), we urge them to take the workers' allegations seriously and conduct a full and independent inquiry," it said.

The statement also noted that the four drivers had previously filed a police report over harassment from unidentified persons that occurred in the wake of their release from custody.

"In the spirit of fairness and transparency, we hope the police will respond to this letter, and a dialogue can be started on the treatment of migrant workers as well as the processes involved in police investigations," it said.

Speaking in taped interviews to documentary filmmaker Lynn Lee on 9 January, 32-year-old He, who faces two charges for engaging in a conspiracy to incite an illegal strike, said he was punched in the stomach by a police officer during his interrogation.

“They locked me in a small room,” he says in Mandarin in the video clip, which Lee uploaded to video platform Vimeo on Monday evening. “At the time, a police officer handcuffed me, and after that he punched me in the stomach.”

In a separate interview, 33-year-old Liu Xiangying was recorded saying that a police officer had threatened to bury him alive, where “no one will be able to find (him)”. According to He and Liu himself, the latter was slapped many times by his interrogators.

“He (the interrogation officer) said, ‘Do you know I can dig a hole and bury you? No one will be able to find you.’ Those were the police’s actual words,” he said. In another instance, Liu said the officer told him “I have ways to make you confess”.

“I said, what do you want me to confess? All I’m saying is what I did on the 26th (the day the strike occurred) and who I talked to, because he was asking me about the 26th and I told them who was present then. He didn’t believe me,” he added.

Liu also said he was asked if he knew He, and when he said he did not, he was slapped repeatedly on the left side, behind his neck and shoulder blades.

“I said I don’t know him (He). Because I didn’t know He Jun Ling he beat me. He said ‘You know him!’; I said, ‘I don’t’, and then he hit me,” he said. “He hit me hard. If he wasn’t using a lot of force, He Jun Ling wouldn’t have heard it.”

Lee, who spoke to all four of the drivers as part of research she was doing for a documentary, said in a blog post on her website that she felt compelled to share the clips from the interviews she did with He and Liu, as they are “serious allegations that need to be addressed urgently”.

Speaking to Yahoo! Singapore on Tuesday morning, she said she had written to the Singapore Prison Service, seeking a response to the drivers’ allegations, but had yet to hear back from them.

“I think everyone will agree that it is unacceptable for the police to hit anyone,” she said, adding that she had reason to believe that they were not lying because they were interviewed separately, at different times, and were not present at each other’s interviews.

“I hope the relevant authorities will respond,” she said. “It will be good to hear from them.”

When contacted for comment, a police spokesperson acknowledged the seriousness of the accusations He and Liu had made.

“They should file a police report so that we can investigate into them. Their lawyers can also raise this matter in court when the case against them is heard,” she said.

Lawyers acting for He have not yet said whether they plan to contest the voluntariness of the drivers' statements given in court, should they go to trial.

The four are next expected in court for a pre-trial conference on Friday afternoon.

Watch the interviews here:

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