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SINGAPORE — Just across the road from Tampines Mall is an HDB block in a seemingly peaceful neighbourhood.
For nearly a decade, however, a female resident of an eighth-floor unit at Block 247 Tampines Street 21 has been shouting insults and vulgarities out of her window multiple times a day. According to the woman’s neighbours, each episode lasts an average of about 15 minutes.
The offending resident also allegedly throws rubbish out of her windows on a regular basis and has also splashed water onto neighbours’ laundry on multiple occasions. Even a court order imposed on the resident in 2017 to seek psychiatric treatment did not deter her from disturbing her neighbours’ peace.
When Yahoo News Singapore visited the block on 12 and 13 June, her shrill voice could be heard even from the ground floor.
Hurt ‘to the core’ by neighbour’s insults
Most of the woman’s immediate neighbours said they had gotten used to her behaviour, with some saying that they no longer hang their laundry outside their windows.
One neighbour, however, has borne the brunt of Lee Dji Lin’s verbal assaults, which come in three languages: English, Malay and Mandarin.
Marliah Jonet, a 64-year-old widow who lives directly above Lee, said the latter’s insults often mention her husband and daughter, who both died some years ago.
Such hurtful comments are the reason why she lodged numerous formal complaints with the authorities regarding Lee’s behaviour.
“I feel bad when I call the police. I don’t want to be a bad neighbour,” said Marliah, who shares the flat with her 26-year-old daughter.
She added that some of Lee’s insults hurt her “to the core”. These included accusations of Marliah being responsible for her husband’s death and of her late daughter and of Marliah having loose morals. Lee has also allegedly hurled racial and religious taunts at Marliah.
Things came to a head in 2017 when Lee threw pork onto the corridor outside Marliah’s flat. After pleading guilty to charges of wounding her neighbour’s religious feelings and harassment, Lee underwent a psychiatric assessment and was later handed a two-year Mandatory Treatment Order (MTO) by the court.
Those subjected to an MTO are required to seek psychiatric treatment and must comply with the conditions imposed by the court or their appointed psychiatrist.
Following the court case, Marliah and her neighbours said they did not hear any of the usual noises coming from Lee’s unit for about three to four months. Then, the screaming began again.
E-mailed PM in desperation
The past nine years have been emotionally draining for Marliah, who has kept meticulous records of Lee’s insults and her own efforts in seeking help from the authorities.
Over the years, she has contacted HDB, Tampines Town Council, grassroots leaders and her former Member of Parliament in the hopes of resolving the issue. Marliah even sought voluntary mediation several times at the former Subordinate Courts, but Lee refused to make an appearance when called for.
In desperation, Marliah even e-mailed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2011, whose representatives referred her to the Tampines Town Council. All in all, while she did meet helpful people along the way, none of these parties were able to put an end to Lee’s incessant taunting.
Marliah had regularly contacted the police, too, on the matter. However, in late March she was told in writing that the police – after consulting with the Attorney-General’s Chambers and considering the facts of the case – would not be taking any further action.
Lee did not answer her door when a Yahoo News Singapore reporter knocked on it. According to several neighbours, whenever police officers knocked on her door, she would either not respond or slam the door on them.
‘If I take her words to heart, I will be troubled’
Over the two visits to Marliah’s house, Lee was heard yelling insults multiple times.
Neighbours, who declined to give their full names, said they were aware of what Lee was saying.
One neighbour, Yeo, 71, said he did not like the noise pollution Lee caused but has learnt to ignore it. Another neighbour, Ho, 58, said the shouting can be so annoying at times that another resident would shout back at Lee to be quiet.
Several other neighbours corroborated the accounts of Lee’s behaviour over the years, and were aware that she had been slapped with an MTO.
Teo, 70, said Lee would soil any clothes that she hung our her window to dry. A longtime resident of the block, Teo said she had tried speaking to Lee’s husband about 12 years ago but the man defended his wife.
Just like Marliah, Teo said that she, too, is sometimes subjected to personal insults from Lee, who insinuates that she is a “loose” woman.
Teo also claimed that on the occasions she bumped into Lee in the neighbourhood, the latter would mutter insults at her.
“If I were to take her words to heart, I will be troubled by it,” said Teo.
‘I will accept any help I can get’
When contacted by Yahoo News Singapore, criminal lawyers said that each of Lee’s insults directed at Marliah could merit a police report.
Aside from mediation, which is voluntary, those caught in neighbourly disputes can also file a case with the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunal at the State Courts.
The court can award damages and make orders that have to be complied with, failing which an offender can be prosecuted. Aggrieved neighbours can also file for protection from harassment in person without the need for a lawyer at the Community Justice Centre at the State Courts.
While Marliah said she is aware of some of the legal options available to her, she also lacks the financial means to afford a lawyer. There is no legal aid available for cases involving sparring neighbours.
For now, she only hopes the taunts and insults will stop at some point.
“I will accept any help I can get,” she said. “I have good relations with my other neighbours. I still believe in the police and government system.”