Several people have reacted to the ministerial statement on the Benjamin Lim case, which was delivered by the Home Affairs minister K Shanmugam in Parliament on Tuesday.
In his statement, Shanmugam laid out the timeline of events leading up to the police investigation, explained police protocol for investigations with young persons, and also slammed parties who publicised what he claimed were “falsehoods”. On 26 January 2016, Benjamin was found dead at the foot of his block in Yishun, after he was taken to the police station to assist in investigations.
Lawyer and member of the Law Society of Singapore (LSS), Thio Shen Yi, was highlighted in the minister’s statement, in which Shanmugam pointed out what Thio had earlier written in LSS’ Law Gazette.
According to the minister, Thio wrote that “the police should have behaved in a less intimidating way”, adding, “he seems to make the assertion of intimidation, based on his other statements which are themselves untrue”.
In response, Thio said in a statement to Yahoo Singapore, “There was no intention to imply that Benjamin’s tragic death was caused by police intimidation. In fact, the article specifically states that we will never know why Benjamin took his life that day.”
He also said that the focus of the Law Gazette message was that the criminal justice system should provide quick access to counsel, especially for the more vulnerable members of the public.
The Online Citizen reacts to statement
Socio-political blog The Online Citizen (TOC) was also slammed by the minister for publishing “falsehoods” pertaining to their coverage of the Benjamin Lim’s saga.
Shanmugam said that TOC had gone on a “planned, orchestrated campaign using falsehoods, and has published about 20 articles or so as part of its campaign”. He also labelled their coverage as “dishonest”.
The blog reacted in an editor’s letter published on its site on Wednesday, saying that they were “puzzled” by the statement. They had also clarified some of the “inaccuracies” which the minister had highlighted in Parliament.
In response to the minister’s claim that Benjamin’s family had wanted privacy from the public, including the media, TOC said that they had clarified with the father after the Parliament session, who said, “The confidentiality that I want is for our family, for our identity to be kept confidential to better protect my two school going children. Whether the media report on the case, we have no question except that we urge the reports must reflect the truth.”
A TOC article also mentioned that the police officers had worn outfits with the word “police” on them, which Shanmugam said was false, as the officers had arrived in plain clothes. TOC said the article was written after speaking to a woman named Mary Anne Pereira.
TOC responded, “We made the additional effort to reach out to Ms Pereira to verify what she said through messaging her on [Facebook]. Ms Pereira told us that her son, who is attending Benjamin’s school, had seen men with the word ‘POLICE’ on the back of their t-shirts on the day Benjamin was taken away.” It added that it understood Pereira later retracted her statement, but at the time it published the article with her comment, there was no indication it was incorrect.
It also said they had reached out to the authorities for comment, but did not receive a response. To date, no authorities have contacted the site’s editors to take down any articles, it added.
“We are happy to correct any mistakes we might have made in our articles. However, the word ‘falsehoods’ implies a deliberate attempt to mislead. TOC rejects any such suggestion,” said a statement on the site.
TOC co-founder Remy Choo spoke to Terry Xu, the TOC writer covering the Benjamin Lim case after hearing Shanmugam’s speech. He wrote on Facebook, “Am confident that he’s (Terry Xu) done his due diligence and groundwork to shed light on a tragic story where almost no official input was given until the salvos in Parliament last night.”
Singapore politicians have also chimed in with their views on the minister’s statement.
Chee Soon Juan from the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) said that the public had the right to know about what happened to Benjamin, and that the authority’s delay in response was “unacceptable”.
“In any matter that is of public interest, the people have every right not just to know about the facts of a case but to also have it in a timely matter. The fact that there was such a delay in the government’s response over the Benjamin Lim episode is unacceptable. To blame other parties for its tardiness is even more reprehensible,” he said in a media release.
Goh Meng Seng from People’s Power Party said he was “utterly disappointed” by the minister’s statement. He wrote, “Instead of addressing the many valid pertinent concerns raised by the public, on and off-line, he has put up a barrage of fire attacks at The Online Citizen (TOC) and the President of Law Society, Mr. Thio Shen Yi with totally irrelevant petty details of bickering.”
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