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Activists demand Singapore extend due process following migrant riots

SINGAPORE -- Activists Wednesday urged Singapore to ensure due process and address migrant worker grievances after the government said it would deport 53 South Asian laborers for their alleged involvement in a rare riot.

Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean on Tuesday said the deportation of the men — 52 Indians and one Bangladeshi — as well as criminal charges filed against 28 other Indians would “send a strong signal that we will not tolerate actions by anyone which threaten law and order in Singapore.”

The riot on Dec. 8, Singapore's worst outbreak of violence in four decades, saw hundreds of South Asian workers go on a rampage that left 39 persons, including police officers, injured and 25 vehicles damaged or burnt.

It was triggered after an Indian construction worker was hit by a bus and killed at a district known as Little India, where tens of thousands of South Asian laborers converge on weekends.

But the city's moves to hand out swift punishments to those allegedly involved in the riot has caused some activists to accuse the government of arbitrarily deporting people without proper due process.

“Singapore's shock at the deplorable violence that took place is understandable,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told AFP.

But “the government should recognize transparency and ensuring the rights of defendants will strengthen, rather than weaken, the support of the international community for Singapore's handling of this situation,” he said.

“In this vein, a question worth asking is why were so many migrant workers deported without a judicial proceeding?”

Isabelle Arradon, deputy Asia Pacific director for the London-based Amnesty International said Singapore authorities were “moving too quickly” in dealing with the alleged rioters.

Officials on Tuesday said the 53 men being deported were being held at an immigration depot, and would be sent home as soon as travel and administrative arrangements are settled.

Those being deported were deemed to have threatened public order for not dispersing despite police orders, while the 28 Indian nationals currently remanded in police custody and facing rioting charges were assessed to be active participants in the riot.

About 200 others will be handed “police advisories” after investigations showed they were at the scene of the riot but were “relatively passive.”

The Ministry of Home Affairs did not immediately comment on the status of the deportation on Wednesday.

“These men shouldn't be arbitrarily deported as they have a right to due process,” Amnesty's Arradon told AFP.

She also called for the government to review its migrant labour policies in the aftermath of the riot, noting that many of the nearly one million foreign workers in the city-state “face various forms of discrimination” and “work in very poor conditions.”

Singapore-based labour rights group Workfair Singapore meanwhile said the “arbitrary deportation” without trial of the 53 men raised concerns about the rule of law in the city-state.

“We call on the minister for home affairs to stop the deportation and either submit these accused to trial or issue them with warnings,” it said in a statement.

Singapore's Immigration Act allows for the government to repatriate foreigners deemed a threat to public security, Law Minister K. Shanmugam said Tuesday.

In December last year, 29 Chinese bus drivers were deported for their involvement in a work stoppage for better wages and living conditions — the first industrial strike in the city-state since 1986.

Five others served jail terms after the strike was declared illegal.

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