Intercepted Gaza-bound boat: MFA asks Israel to accord Singaporeans involved due legal rights

Wong Casandra
Senior Reporter
Low-resolution photo transmitted from the Al Awda during its final hours of navigation (left) and Singaporean Jason Soo (right). (PHOTOS: Freedom Flotilla Coalition website)

Two Singaporeans who were involved with a flotilla planning to break the Gaza blockade have been reportedly detained by the Israeli authorities since Sunday (29 July).

In response to media queries by Yahoo News Singapore, a spokesperson from Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in an email on Monday night that MFA has called on Israeli authorities to accord the Singaporeans involved due legal rights, without specifying the nature of their involvement.

The MFA spokesperson added, “All Singaporeans should comply with the laws of the countries they are visiting.” The email did not reveal the number of Singaporeans involved or their identities.

The Freedom Flotilla Coalition, an activist group that is aiming to break the blockade, said in a statement that Jason Soo, a Singaporean independent film-maker, was onboard its boat Al Awda (The Return), when it was intercepted by Israeli forces on Sunday.

Soo, 42, is best known for his documentary “1987: Untracing The Conspiracy”, about detainees arrested during Operation Spectrum under the Internal Security Act in 1987.

According to the group’s website, the other Singaporean on board is orthopaedic surgeon Ang Swee Chai, 69, who holds both Singapore and British citizenships.  The self-imposed exile, who is a strong advocate of the Palestinian people, is the widow of Francis Khoo, an activist who fled Singapore in 1977 to evade arrest by the Internal Security Department.

Dr Ang had previously planned to return to Singapore but did not do so over fears that she would be stripped of her Singapore citizenship. Under Singapore law, citizens are not allowed to hold dual citizenship.

According to the group, Soo was on board Al Awda to document the efforts of Dr Ang.

Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent Palestinian militants from obtaining weapons or military-related materials. United Nations officials and human rights activists, however, have called for the blockade to be removed, given the worsening humanitarian conditions in Gaza.

The group said in a media statement on its website on Monday that two people on board the boat have been released, though most of the crew and at least 18 participants remain in detention at the Givon prison in Israel.

The duo, identified as Israeli citizens, have been charged with attempting to enter Gaza and conspiracy to commit a crime, and were released on bail on Sunday, the group added.

“We are still gravely concerned for their safety and well-being as we had no contact with most of them as of 14:00 CEST (8pm SGT, Monday) today,” the statement said. “We call on national governments, civil society and international organisations to demand that Israeli authorities immediately release our boat so that we can deliver our much-needed medical supplies on Al Awda and the fishing boat itself to the rightful recipients in Gaza.”

Al Awda, a former fishing boat from Norway sailing under a Norwegian flag, was carrying 22 people from 16 nations, as well as €13,000 (S$20,721) worth of medical supplies when it was captured near Palestinian waters on Sunday, according to the group.

Apart from the two Singaporeans, the participants comprised human rights supporters, journalists and crew members from countries including Malaysia, Sweden, Norway, Spain, and USA, according to the group’s website.

In its statement, boat leader Zohar Chamberlain Regev, who was one of the two released on bail, “reported seeing blood” on the deck of Al Awda.

“People on board were tasered and hit by masked IDF (Israel Defense Forces) soldiers. We did not get our passports or belongings before we got off the boat,” the statement quoted her as saying.

According to an earlier media statement by the group on Sunday, the Al Awda was reportedly 49 nautical miles from the port in Gaza, when it was warned by the Israeli naval personnel that it was “breaking international law” and that they will use “any measures necessary” to stop them.

The boat, however, maintained its course towards Gaza, where the crew and participants were due to arrive around 3am Singapore time.

The group lost contact with Al Awda later on the same day, with “a number of warships” sighted near the boat.

“Al Awda is being followed by the Swedish-flagged yacht Freedom, which is also carrying medical supplies along with people from a number of nations,” said the group.

The group had posted a one-minute long audio clip on YouTube that was purportedly a recording of Soo’s voice.

The clip said, “I was supposed to leave the boat, at least before it reached Gaza, but it did not happen, and I am at an Israeli prison. Please do whatever you can to free me and the other participants.”

Facebook user Kai Lam posted on Monday morning to appeal to members of the public to write to the MFA and the Israeli embassies “to demand the safe release” of those imprisoned.

“Jason was filming and had planned to get off the boat much earlier. However, he was unable to do so and is now uncontactable. I’d be grateful if you could look into this matter and help get Jason home safely,” added Kai Lam.

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