House Leader Indranee Rajah explains why 'no choice' but to raise complaint against WP's Raeesah Khan

The matter will be referred to the Committee of Privileges.

Jane Zhang | November 01, 2021, 06:51 PM

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In Parliament on Monday (Nov. 1), Workers' Party Member of Parliament Raeesah Khan admitted that, contrary to what she had previously claimed in Parliament, she did not accompany a rape survivor to a police station to make a police report.

On Aug. 3, Khan had given a speech on the Workers' Party's motion on empowering women, in which she said that three years ago, she accompanied a 25-year-old rape survivor to make a police report, who then emerged from the police station crying, as an officer had allegedly made comments about her dressing and the fact that she had been drinking.

On Nov. 1, Khan admitted that she had not been present with the woman whose anecdote she had shared, and rather had heard the survivor share it in a women's support group of which Khan herself had been a part.

Indranee Rajah seeks clarifications

After Khan's statement, Leader of the House Indranee Rajah (from the People's Action Party) sought some clarifications from her. The following is their full exchange:

Indranee: "I would like to start by saying to the Member that I am very sorry to hear that she was a victim of sexual assault. I can understand that that must be very difficult, and I hope that she will have the courage to be able to come through this and be stronger as a result.

However, as the Member's statements do also disclose some rather startling disclosures — a bit of a bombshell, I might say — I do have to seek some clarifications, because I need to know what exactly should follow from this disclosure. So I hope the Member will understand and bear with me as I seek these clarifications.

The Member, as I understand, and let's see if I noted what she said correctly — she said that she had shared an anecdote, but in fact, she had not gone down to the police station as she had previously described. Is that correct?"

Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin: "Ms Khan."

Khan: "Thank you, Leader of the House. Yes, it's correct, and hence why I'm making this apology today."

Indranee: "Yes, understand. That means — and can I check? — because I think the the Member had spoken on the Workers' Party's motion on empowering women on the third of August and the Member had made this statement:

'Three years ago, I accompanied a 25-year-old survivor to make a police report against the rape that was committed against her. She came out crying. The police officer had allegedly made comments about her dressing and the fact that she was drinking.'

Hence, in the light of what the Member has just told us, that statement — at least the part about accompanying the survivor to the police station and what the Member allegedly saw — that part is untrue. Can the Member confirm that?"

Khan: "Yes, I confirm that that was not the whole truth."

Indranee: "And, because later in that day, the Minister of State, Mr Desmond Tan, had sought some clarifications from the Member, and the Member, in her response, said: 'Like I mentioned, it was three years ago, and I do not wish to re-traumatise the person that I had accompanied.'

Can I ask the Member to confirm that that statement — 'the person that I had accompanied' — was also untrue?"

Khan: "Yes, that was untrue. That was not the truth.

I mean, firstly, I wanted, I want to say that when I was questioned subsequently, what was going through my mind was that I wanted to protect the survivor and the people that are in the group, that were in the group.

And secondly, like I mentioned, it's really difficult to share a traumatic experience like this and to share that I was a part of that group in the first place.

So I just wanted to clarify that these were the things that were going through my mind while I was answering those questions. Thank you."

Indranee: "I understand. I'm just trying to establish the facts, so that we all know exactly what transpired. And then we can think a bit further, of what should follow from that.

About two months later, I believe, the Member was asked by the Minister for Home Affairs for further clarification in this House. So that would have been on the fourth of October, 2021.

And this was the exchange that took place. I think the Minister for Home Affairs had asked her for details. The Member had said she would like them to remain confidential, and the Minister for Home Affairs had said this:

'Sir, I do not understand this point about confidentiality. Can I ask, through you, sir, for Ms. Khan, to confirm in this house that everything she told us is accurate, that she did accompany such a person, and such an incident did happen?'

And Ms. Khan's answer was: 'Yes.'

Can I ask the Member to confirm that that statement, when she said 'Yes' was untrue?"

Khan: "It was not the truth. Yes."

Possible to relate anecdote without telling untruth

Indranee: "Thank you. I have a few more clarifications. Please bear with me.

If I understood the Member correctly, earlier, she had said that the reason and the thinking behind what she did was that she did not want to disclose publicly that she was a member of the survivor's group. Is that correct?"

Khan: "Yes, I did not want to disclose publicly that I was a part of a women's support group. Thank you."

Indranee: "I understand. I want to understand from the Member why it was necessary, actually, to say those untruths, because the Member could easily have related the anecdote by saying that she heard from someone who had this experience.

That's all that would have been necessary to do. The Member would not have had to refer to the support group or even disclose its existence. And there would certainly have been no need to reveal that she was part of the support group.

So I would like to ask the Member this, does the Member agree that it would have been possible to tell the story without reference to the support group, or telling the untruth?"

Khan: "Thank you for those clarifications. You know, I've been really reflecting on this episode and why I told the anecdote the way that it was. And I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I did not have my own courage to report on my own assault.

So I felt, you know, very compelled to ensure that other survivors who do get the courage to report their assault to have that process done with respect and with dignity.

But I recognise the Leader of the House's comments, and I do recognise that it was not the right way to go about it. And that's why I'm here today, admitting that it was a mistake and here making a very frank apology. Thank you."

Indranee: "I understand that. I do completely empathise with the reason why the Member felt it was necessary to speak up. All I'm asking is this, and I'm not sure that I had a response, but my question was simply this; it would have been possible to tell the story without the untruths and without referring to the survivors' group. Would the Member agree?"

Khan: "If I was unclear, I apologise. Yes, I do feel like it would have been possible. But in my haste, and in my passion to advocate for survivors like myself, I did [make] a mistake."

A lot of people did not know about my assault until very recently: Khan

Indranee: "Then, well, the other thing I'm a bit puzzled about is, I can understand the mistake, the spur of the moment, but the only thing is that on the third of August, I had specifically stood up in this House to remind Members of the need to substantiate allegations made. And I had said this:

'I just wanted to remind members of the House that when assertions and allegations are made, Members must be prepared to substantiate them. This is just a reminder to Members so that in future they will understand.'

So I said that on the third of August. Two months later, when the Member was asked by the Minister for Home Affairs about this incident — just two months' time to reflect — why did the Member then repeat the untruth?"

Khan: "Thank you. Like I mentioned before, I think there were two things that were going through my mind. The first was that I really wanted to protect the identity of the survivor and those other survivors in the women's support group.

And secondly, a lot of people did not know about this assault until very recently, including my family. So I was not ready at that point to come forward with this information.

But after being able to have discussions with my family, with my friends, and also informing the relevant people, it was clear that I wanted to make this apology. I wanted to make this personalised explanation, like I've done so today."

"There's still an allegation against the police": Indranee

Indranee: "Thank you. I have to check another matter. Although the Member has retracted and apologised — and indeed, that is the correct thing to do, given the circumstances that she has explained — the Member has also said that she was relating another survivor's story.

This means that there still is an allegation against the police; not the Member accompanying somebody and going down, but there is a survivor there with an allegation against the police, which has been related to this House. That means there is still an issue of the need to substantiate the allegations. A withdrawal and an apology does not purge or wipe out a previous failure to substantiate the allegations.

What I'm trying to understand — and this is very important — when, I need to understand what the Member knew, at the time the allegation was made. Is this is a case where, based on what the survivor said, the Member...

Or let me let me backtrack a bit. Because when the Member was asked about it, she said, 'With regard to confidentiality, I would not like to reveal any of the information.'

So, is this a case where based on what the survivor said, the Member actually knows the details, but didn't want to disclose them because of confidentiality? Or is this a case where the Member actually doesn't know any of the details?"

Khan: "Thank you. I don't know any of the details. All I knew was what I shared in my speech on the third of August, and that was an account from the survivor. I understand that it's not going to be able to be verified. And hence, I've withdrawn my anecdote and apologised to the Singapore Police Force as well."


Indranee: "Thank you. On the confidentiality point, if I heard the Member say — let me just check my notes [from] when the Member was speaking...

Yes, she said that, the Member said, on confidentiality, that she should not have shared the survivor's story without her consent. Can I ask the member why she said that? Is it because the story was shared in confidence, i.e. on the understanding that it will be kept confidential?"

Khan: "Yes. One of the principles of being in a women's support group is that the details should remain confidential. And that is something that I shared in my speech that, you know, I feel this failure deeply.

Because I myself am a survivor so I understand what it feels like to have information out there that that I do not consent to. And this has been a lesson of consent for me. And yeah, like I said, it's a failure I take very deeply."

Indranee: "So, because when the Member was asked for details in Parliament, she said that she did not want to disclose because of confidentiality. But based on what the Member has just said, actually, by that time, because the story had already been recounted, it means the Member had already breached the confidentiality to the survivor. Is that not correct?"

Khan: "That is correct. Yes."

Promise to residents of Sengkang

Indranee: "Just one last... couple of clarifications. I think the Member ended by saying that she promised the residents of Sengkang that she would work even harder for them. About a year ago, the Member made this promise, also to the residents of Sengkang — I think this was what was reported in a [Straits Times] report dated the 17th of September, 2020.

The Member had said:

'From these interactions, I have also learned that as a leader, I have the power to start difficult conversations, and that it is vital to frame these conversations in a considerate and accountable manner. As an MP, I hope to use the appropriate platforms to speak out on matters concerning my constituents.'

That was the promise made last year to the residents of Sengkang. I mean, the Member has, in the motion on women's empowerment, had the platform to speak here about women's issues. The Member had the power to use her position as an MP to advocate.

Can I ask the member that having regard to the fact that the Member has not been truthful to Parliament and not able to substantiate the allegations because the Member had no details, would the Member regard that promise last year to the residents of Sengkang to have been kept?"

Khan: "Thank you. Yes, I do. Because I'm here today, and I'm accountable for my actions. I've apologised to the House. I've retracted the anecdote that I made. And I've also apologiSed to the Singapore Police Force.

I recognise that there was a lapse of judgment. But I am here today to apologise for it. And I think that goes back to the spirit of what I initially said a year ago."

Indranee: "Understand. There is a distinction, though. The Member is apologising for not having kept the promise. My question was this: That means that the promise was not kept, is that not correct?"

Khan: "I think one of the important parts of that post was that I would remain accountable. And I think today, here standing in Parliament, I am remaining accountable to my voters, and to myself, and to the principles that I wish to uphold."

Indranee: "I thank the Member for that. That was not quite the way it was framed, but that's alright. The way that it was framed was that it's vital to frame conversations in an accountable manner, but I thank the Member for her clarifications."

Point of order raised

Indranee said that in light of what Khan had disclosed, "it's not possible for me to leave the matter as it is", and she thus raised a point of order.

"I wish to raise the point of order, under Standing Order 100(7)(b). And the point of order is this: the Member has, by her own admission, lied to the house three times — in her original speech, in the clarifications arising from that speech, and two months later, in her response to the Minister for Home Affairs.

The Member has also confirmed that when she made the statement, she didn't really have any details. That means that she was, at the time of making the statement, not able to substantiate her allegation, and in fact had very little basis for doing so.

What this means is that, and as a result of that, there's a cloud hanging over the police. The police had to go and do investigations, and a lot of time and resources was spent on that. It's unfair to the police, and I think the Member has acknowledged that."

Great disservice to the survivors of sexual assault and rape: Indranee

However, the most "distressing" part of all that had happened, Indranee said, was that it does a "great disservice" to the survivors of sexual assault and rape victims.

"Because it's hard enough for such women who are victims to tell their stories, and they have great difficulty in getting people to believe them sometimes.

So when relating their stories — and that is based on a lie and inability or unwillingness to substantiate the story — it makes it that much more difficult for these women to come forward and to tell their stories, because it's like ink in water; it spreads throughout, and it casts doubt and suspicion on the stories, and it makes it that much harder for women to be believed.

It undermines what we're trying to do, and especially in this year of trying to advance women's development."

She reiterated that Members of Parliament are granted privileges, including the ability to speak in Parliament with immunity, but Members should tell the truth and back up their assertions or allegations.

Referred matter to Committee of Privileges

Indranee shared her well wishes with Khan:

"I wish to say to the Member that I do hope that given her past experience in what she has described and shared, I hope that she will heal. I hope that she will have time to recover from her issues on a personal level and repair relationships which she has acknowledged have been strained."

However, she added that Khan is also a Member of Parliament and thus subject to duties and responsibilities, including that she should neither breach Parliamentary privilege nor abuse it.

"And I — with great reluctance because I have sympathy for the Member's personal circumstances —but as Leader of the House, I also have a responsibility: that is to ensure that in this chamber, all Members of Parliament discharge their duties faithfully and accountably and responsibly, and also that if there are any breaches of privilege, that that has to be dealt with."

Indranee reiterated the importance of the integrity of Parliament, as it is a platform that Singaporeans and others in the international scene look at.

"What we say and what we do must be based on truth and integrity. Because again, if we do not do that, it undermines the reputation of our Parliament, our institutions, and faith that our people have in us."

Thus, given what was heard today, Indranee said that she "really [has] no choice" but to raise a complaint under Section 100(7)(b) of the Standing Orders for breach of privilege suddenly arising:

"Based on, firstly, the disclosure by the Member that she has not been truthful — well, has lied to Parliament — not once, not twice, but three times, and also because she has been unable to substantiate an allegation that has been made.

These are matters which prima facie affect the privilege of Parliament, and I therefore reluctantly have to ask the matter, Mr Speaker, to be referred to the Committee of Privileges."

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin agreed that the matter would be referred to the Committee of Privileges. As Indranee herself is a member of the Committee, but the one who raised the complaint, she asked to be recused. She also asked for Shanmugam to be recused, on his behalf, as his ministry is involved.

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Top photos via CNA.