Man takes to Facebook to accuse Changi Airport immigration officer of infringing his rights
Do you know your rights when confronted by immigration officers?
Facebook user PJ Wong shared a Facebook post titled “Know your rights” about his experience with an immigration officer, Eugene Ng, who had asked to check his luggage at Changi Airport.
Wong said he was curious why he was singled out and why he was selected to be screened out of so many other people.
The immigration officer did not reply and Wong said that he repeated the question with a raised voice.
This was when the immigration officer asked for Wong’s passport and proceeded to take down his particulars.
He ignored me and I guess that was his right to do so but I wondered if he actually heard me, so I asked again. I raise my voice this time to make sure I would be heard . Then he demanded me to give him my passport and he took it to record my details . I was truly curious and I asked him why he asked for my passport and what my details were being recorded for. His reason was because I raised the volume of my voice.
After Wong asked again the purpose of Ng taking his particulars, he was told to follow the immigration officer into the search room.
Wong refused and demanded to know why he had to go. He started to record a video of Ng with his phone.
Wong said that the immigration officer then tried to snatch the phone away and Ng said Wong was not allowed to record a video. Wong said that he was within his rights and that he was in a public area which allowed him to shoot a video.
Ng’s senior officer got involved and subsequently let Wong go.
The Facebook post currently has over 700 shares and a photograph of immigration officer Ng.
The post also included what he thought would have happened to him if he were to enter the search room:
What kind of people are we hiring these days as public servants to serve us ? This is clearly an abuse of power and an infringement of my rights . This officer had intimidated me and if I had followed him to the search room I could not imagine what would happen next . I was so afraid for my safety and what this officer and / or his other colleagues would have done to me if I had been dragged to the search room .
Here’s the full post:
The post’s comments mostly supported Wong with one person urging him not to try this in the United States. Facebook users who are not Wong’s friends are not allowed to comment.
Rights vs Statutes
In case you are wondering whether Wong indeed knew his rights, here are some Statutes you may want to consider before you repeat what Wong did in the name of ‘your rights’:
Under the Customs Act (important bit highlighted):
Search of persons arriving in Singapore
109.—(1) Subject to this section, any person landing, or being about to land, or having recently landed, from any vessel or aircraft, or leaving any vessel or aircraft in the territorial waters of Singapore, whether for the purpose of landing or otherwise, or entering or having recently entered Singapore by road or rail shall, on demand by any proper officer of customs —
(a) permit his person, goods and baggage to be searched by the officer; or
(b) together with the goods and baggage accompany the officer to a customs office or customs station or police station and there permit his person, goods and baggage to be searched by an officer of customs.
In plain words, if an immigration officer wants to conduct a search on you after you have just entered Singapore, they can do so, and can even bring you to an office to do so.
And if you act all shady and defiant towards officers they can arrest you under the Customs Act section 112 (1)(b) and (1)(c):
Powers of arrest
112.—(1) Any officer of customs may arrest without warrant —
(a) any person found committing or attempting to commit, or employing or aiding any person to commit, or abetting the commission of, an offence under this Act;
(b) any person whom he may reasonably suspect to have in his possession any dutiable or uncustomed goods or any goods liable to seizure under this Act; or
(c) any person against whom a reasonable suspicion exists that he has been guilty of an offence under this Act,
Was Wong within his rights to video what was going down between him and Ng? Check out this section 38 under the Public Order Act (important bits highlighted):
Seizure of films of law enforcement activities
38.—(1) Any police officer of or above the rank of sergeant, or any CPIB officer, narcotics officer, intelligence officer or immigration officer, if satisfied upon information and after such further inquiry as he thinks necessary, that any person —
(a) is making, has made or is about to make;
(b) is exhibiting or communicating or is about to exhibit or communicate; or
(c) has in his possession,
any film or picture containing a record of any law enforcement activities, and he reasonably believes that the film or picture, if exhibited or communicated (whether to the public or any section thereof or otherwise) —
(i) prejudices the effective conduct of an ongoing law enforcement operation or investigation, or any intelligence operation; or
(ii) endangers or will endanger the safety of any law enforcement officer in an ongoing law enforcement operation or investigation, or any intelligence operation,
he may exercise any of the powers specified in subsection (2).
(2) A police officer of or above the rank of sergeant, a CPIB officer, a narcotics officer, an intelligence officer or an immigration officer may —
(a) direct the person reasonably believed to be making, exhibiting or communicating a film or picture or about to do so to immediately cease making, exhibiting or communicating the film, and either to immediately delete, erase or otherwise destroy the film or picture or to surrender the film or picture to the police officer, CPIB officer, narcotics officer, intelligence officer or immigration officer, as the case may be;
(b) without warrant, search any person whom he has reason to believe is in possession of a film or picture referred to in subsection (1);
(c) without warrant, and with such assistance and by such force as is necessary, by night or by day, enter and search any place where he has reason to believe any film or picture referred to in subsection (1) is kept; or
(d) without warrant, and with such assistance and by such force as is necessary, seize any film or picture referred to in subsection (1) and any copy thereof, and any equipment (including a handphone) used or about to be used in the making, exhibition or communication of the film or picture,
So Ng had the right to stop Wong from filming.
Was Wong within his rights when he refused to hand over his video recording?
Check out section 39 of the Public Order Act:
Any person who wilfully obstructs any police officer in the exercise of any power conferred by or under section 29(3) or 38(2) shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $20,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both.
We only have Wong’s side of the story so we can’t say what exactly transpired between these two individuals. Did one look at the other the wrong way? Was one of them having a bad day? We will never know.
But what we do know is that sometimes, instead of saying ‘Know your rights’ it is better to ask ‘Do I know the Statutes?’