MARUAH had to change the venue for our public forum “Foreign Workers, Justice and Fairness” to be held on Dec 23rd, at extremely short notice. We apologise to the speakers and those who had confirmed their attendance for this event. This posting sets out the events resulting in the change in venue.
The original venue was the hall on the second floor of Ananda Bhavan Restaurant at Syed Alwi Road (opposite Mustafa Centre). MARUAH had already paid for the venue. Publicity posters were released on Thursday.
Yesterday evening (Dec 21st), we received a call from the restaurant’s management to inform us that the police had called them, asked them about the event, and spoken to them about the foreign workers in their employment.
We informed them that the event and our activities are legal and above board. The event was being conducted in accordance with applicable laws, being an indoor forum with only Singaporean speakers. We would be handling logistics for the event. We also told them that the police could contact us to seek any clarifications needed, as we did not want the restaurant to be caught in between. We also told the management that the event would touch on the struggles of the foreign workers, the prejudice they face in our society and the post-riot measures, and would include a Q&A discussion.
The person we spoke to said he had to inform the police and would let us know. Near midnight, Ananda Bhavan sent a SMS stating that ‘after consulting the police and advice from the Board’, they had decided to cancel the booking and would refund our money.
MARUAH issues this statement over this incident:
“MARUAH registers our protest over this blatant harassment by the government against lawful and legitimate civil society activities. Through this forum, we are seeking to build bridges in the community, to ask for equal access to justice for all and to deepen our understanding of the issues faced by foreign workers. This discussion is necessary and important to our society.
So we are disappointed at these tactics employed by the police. We sympathise with the management of Ananda Bhavan Restaurant. They have clearly been unsettled by the call from the police.
But there was no need for the police to contact the restaurant and subject them to unwarranted fear and anxiety. MARUAH is open, above-board, and easily contactable. The police could and should have contacted us, as organisers of the event, to ask any questions and seek any clarifications they might have. To date, we have still not heard from the police.
We appreciate the concerns that the police may have, and would have done our part to address any concerns that they may have had, if they had only contacted us. But civil society has a right, even a moral duty, to organise such events, and the government has to respect and protect this right, not take steps to undermine our legitimate exercise of our lawful rights.
MARUAH regrets that we have no choice but to say that the approach adopted through the police was unnecessarily restrictive and oppressive, and has only served to reduce the common space for Singaporeans to speak up and play an active role in society.”