Teo Soh Lung, a lawyer and former Internal Security Act (ISA) detainee under Operation Spectrum in 1987, was one of the two individuals who were called to assist the police in the investigation of alleged violations of Cooling Off Day regulations at the Cantonment Police Station, around 10am on Tuesday, 31 May 2016.
Teo said that the police questioned her about her Facebook post made on Cooling Off Day, asking about the number of likes, who her visitors are, what she usually posts about, whether she thinks her post can influence the way people vote. Teo told the police that the Parliamentary Elections Act applies to political parties and candidates, not citizens like her, who have a constitutional right to post what they like on Facebook.
Instead of being allowed to leave the police station following her two hour interview, Teo was escorted by 7-8 police officers back to her residence to search for evidence relating to her alleged offence.
About five friends were there at her residence, accompanying Teo when the officers went through her belongings without a search warrant.
Lawyer Remy Choo recalled his experience of the incident as he arrived at Teo’s residence on Tuesday at about 2.20 p.m. He wrote that 7–8 police officers were in the midst of seizing her handphone, desktop and laptop when he arrived.
The investigating officer (IO), Angie Ng, was asked why the police had to seize Teo’s electronic devices given that Teo was not disputing the publication of the articles on her personal Facebook page on Cooling Off day.
Choo further pointed out that Teo was willing to cooperate with the police by giving them all the necessary information relating to the offence under the Parliamentary Elections Act which was being investigated.
The response from the IO was, “This is an arrestable offence, and we do not need to tell you how we conduct our investigations.”
Video of the police conducting the search at Teo Soh Lung’s house
Two individuals claiming to be police officers without pass.
After Choo pointed out politely but firmly that it was disproportionate to seize Teo’s personal electronic devices which contained personal data, another officer mentioned to Choo that he could be charged with obstructing investigations.
At the end of the search, the police seized one desktop computer, one laptop and one mobile phone belonging to Teo. The police said that Teo was not required to follow them back to the station. Ngerng, who also had his residence raided, had to follow the police back to the station.
Choo noted that Teo was visibly shaken by the entire spectacle. She was particularly upset that the police had to take her laptop, which had nothing related to the Facebook posts on it.
Choo commented on his Facebook post:
“I was disappointed with the police action. The seizure of a person’s electronic devices is gravely disruptive to their personal lives, and that these devices contain large amounts of personal private data irrelevant to the investigation. I would have thought the police could give a proper explanation as to why they needed to go to such extremes, especially given the fact that these are essentially ‘political’ offences under the Parliamentary Elections Act.
Soh Lung is a fiercely passionate social and political activist, but why must she be treated like a criminal, hell bent on concealing evidence from the police? She’s a former practicing lawyer and council member of the Law Society!”
Choo also said that he has written to the police to ask that her electronic devices be returned as soon as possible, upon her provision of any information or material which is relevant to investigations which he believes to be a reasonable request and should be acceded to.
He further noted that there was no such extreme action being taken against politicians who were alleged to have breached Cooling Off day regulations and asked about the need to use such a heavy hand against individuals posting on their personal Facebook pages.
Some individuals have speculated that the seizure of personal electronic devices may be part of a fishing expedition by the authorities to seek out “incriminating” information that might lead to other charges.
Under the Parliamentary Election Act, any person who is found guilty of violating the cooling off day regulation will be fined for a sum of not exceeding $1,000 or to imprisoned for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both.