Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam repeatedly pressed Workers' Party MP Raeesah Khan in Parliament on Oct. 4 to divulge more information pertaining to a claim she made in a previous parliamentary seating two months ago.
Raeesah, while speaking during the Aug. 3 debate on empowering women, said she had accompanied a rape victim to make a police report three years ago, and personally saw the 25-year-old victim cry after coming out of the police station.
Asked Raeesah for more details
Shanmugam returned to the issue in Parliament in October during his speech to press Khan to reveal more about what she witnessed.
The tense exchange initially saw Shanmugam provide a background on what transpired in the August Parliamentary session, before pressing Khan repeatedly to reveal when and at which police station the incident occurred.
The law and home affairs minister also assured Khan that the matter will be treated delicately without publicly naming the woman involved.
"What is extremely important is that we identify the police station, the officers involved. I thought I've given very clear instructions to the police, that we have to identify the officers involved, get their versions, to be fair to them. And what further steps are taken, depends on the facts. The government is very serious about making sure that the police do the right thing. So if they haven't behaved well, then we must discipline them."
He added: "As I said, this does not have to mean that the victim has to be named publicly, we will consider carefully how to proceed. So it's not really traumatising."
Asked Speaker of Parliament to compel Raeesah to respond
Shanmugam then requested the Speaker of Parliament, Tan Chuan-Jin, to ask Khan to at least provide basic information so that the police can pinpoint the case and look into it.
"And for us to take this further, we need more details, so can the member, and ask the member through you, sir, to tell us, at the very least, the police station that she went to with the victim? And if possible the names of the police officer or officers who attended to the victim and the member? And if she cannot remember the names then some detail? How many officers were there? Some description of them rough age, race, male or female? Whatever details you can give."
"And when the members or the victim come out crying from the interview? Did the member bring this to the police officers attention? What did the members say to the officers? How did the officers respond when alerted to the victim's reaction? And did the member lodge a complain about what happened either at the time or after that? And I think the members should be able to remember the month, the year when this happened, when she went to the police station. She told the Parliament three times that this happened three years ago. Can she confirm that this took place in 2018?"
Police cannot find the case
This was before Shanmugam revealed that the police "have spent a lot of time searching the records" to try to look into the matter but have been unable to pull up a specific instance that matched Khan's claims.
Shanmugam said: "They don't seem to be able to identify a case where Ms. Khan was present with the victim. And it is entirely possible that they didn't note down Ms Khan's name, but it is most important that the matter is not left hanging with doubt or what may or may not have happened."
"And as I have said our focus is on the police officers, their reputation of the Singapore Police Force to help the victim."
In response to the questions, Raeesah provided a short response by declining to reveal anything else further.
She said: "Thank you minister for the clarifications. Like I said it did happen three years ago and I haven't been successful getting in touch with the person that I accompanied. And, you know, with regards to confidentiality, I would prefer for it to remain that way. Thank you."
Shanmugam pressed on
This prompted Shanmugam to step up by reiterating his questions.
He said: "Sir, I asked her, which police station, and which month, and the identities of the officers to the extent that Ms. Khan knows them."
Still at her position at the microphone, Raeesah clarified that she did not know who were the police officers, but was pressed by Tan to reveal the police station and the date of the incident.
In response, Khan reiterated again: "With regards to confidentiality with the survivor I will not like to reveal any of this information. Thank you."
No breach by revealing police station
Shanmugam then stepped up and clarified that revealing the police station would not be breaching confidentiality with the victim.
In response, and for the third time, Raeesah said: "Understand, but with regards to confidentiality I will not be revealing the any other information. Thank you."
Made Raeesah respond for fourth time
Shanmugam pressed on yet again, seeking the power of the Speaker of Parliament to direct a fellow MP to provide at least a date or the location of the police station.
Tan said to Raeesah:
Ms Khan I think that's a fair question, would you like to respond or are you holding the same position? The reason is that certain allegations have been made, which I think are fair and serious and the police I understand would like to follow up and check to make sure that they can rectify the situation. So, any leads will be useful without divulging the name of the lady concerned.
For the fourth time, Raeesah said: "Thank you. I also like to remain for it to remain confidential. Thank you."
Shanmugan asks Raeesah to confirm incident did happen
In response to Raeesah's repeated refusal to disclose more information, Shanmugam pressed her to categorically state for the record that the incident did take place three years ago.
Shanmugam said: "Sir, I don't understand this point about confidentiality. Can I ask through you sir, for Ms. Khan to confirm in this house that everything she has told us is accurate, that she did accompany such a person, and such an incident did happen."
Raeesah said in response: "Yes."
Shanmugan then wrapped up his questions by telling Raeesah that the matter is far from over.
"Sir, we have checked our records. We have no such case, that fits in the description that has been given by the member. I wanted to give her the option of giving us the best information she has but she confirms that such an incident happened, that she accompanied the victim to the police station, and that she does not wish to divulge the information, only because of confidentiality. Speaker, members will know that confidentiality doesn't extend to not telling us which police station."
"And sir, I will leave it here for now. But that does not mean that the matter rests. The police will investigate this very serious matter further. The officers in charge in the police will interview Ms Khan. And any allegations of misconduct concerning specific officers will be referred to the SPF Internal Affairs Office for further investigations."
"I will say to Ms Khan, through you, sir, that at the very least, she must remember which police station, which year this happened and in which month, and some details of the number and ages and races of the police officers who she says and she has confirmed for us that she did see them."
Raeesah said in Parliament during the Aug. 3 debate on empowering women that she had accompanied a rape victim to make a police report, but the incident ended up with the victim crying after she left the police station.
Raeesah said then: "The police officer had allegedly made comments about her dressing, and the fact that she was drinking."
Following this episode and based on anecdotes suggesting such an interaction was not an isolated incident, she said more officers needed to be trained to handle such cases and suggested that counsellors also be deployed at police stations.
That will help build confidence and capacity among law enforcement officials to handle difficult issues delicately, she added, and encourage more victims of sexual violence to come forward.
Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan had asked Khan for more details to substantiate her claims so as to enable the authorities to look into the matter, but Khan declined, citing confidentiality reasons and to avoid re-victimising the woman, as well as having not been able to contact the victim to seek consent.
Leader of the House Indranee Rajah reminded MPs during that seating to exercise their parliamentary privilege responsibly, as it was especially important when an assertion is made against an agency that is not in a position to defend itself.
Indranee said: "I just wanted to remind members of the House that when assertions and allegations are made, members must be prepared to substantiate them."
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