(Tl;dr) There’re baddies and liars online too, so don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.
Today, Minister Shanmugam addressed the case of a 14-year-old boy, Benjamin Lim, who had jumped to his death a month ago.
In his address to the parliament, he tackled the details of Lim’s interactions with the police during the investigation of the molestation of an 11-year-old girl. After being interviewed by the police, Lim jumped to his death. The event shocked the public, and alternative media raised questions about the procedures of police officers dealing with young people.
The information available at the beginning was scarce, and was subjected to investigations by the public. However, Minister Shanmugam shed some light on the situation, sharing details from the time that the investigation began to when Lim was released by the police.
He also said that they will be reviewing the process and procedures.
Here are the main details released by the Ministry for Home Affairs (MHA) that you need to know before you pick up a pitchfork.
1. The investigation before Lim was approached was sufficient
A boy in a Northview uniform was seen on CCTV footage following an 11-year-old girl into the lift at the ground floor of her block. When inside the lift, he allegedly molested the girl in the lift. After he got out of the lift on the 13th floor, CCTV footage shows him getting into the lift at the 12th floor and left the lift at the ground floor.
The girl then told her father that a boy that she’d never met before touched a part of her body. The family filed a police report on Jan 25, that same day. The police identified the boy as from Northview Secondary School based on his school uniform, and arrived at the school on Jan 26 to speak to the school staff, who identified the suspect as Lim.
2. No more than 3 policemen accompanied Lim from the school.
Unlike reports that claimed that 5 policemen escorted Lim from school, MHA reports that Lim was brought to the Principal’s office by a school official. One police officer spoke to Lim with school staff present. Lim was then taken to Ang Mo Kio Police Station by three police officers in an unmarked car, and interviewed by one officer in an open plan office. The police officers had gone to the school dressed in plain clothes, and it is not true that their shirts had POLICE on the back.
Photographs of the cubicle that Lim was interrogated in has since been released.
3. He was offered food and drink at the end of the interview.
4. It was unlikely he would have been arrested.
According to Minister Shanmugam, the nature of the alleged molest could fall in the “less serious range”. He also said that his young age and the fact that it was his first offence would have been taken into account, and its likely that he would have been given a warning. He also shared that the police avoid criminalising the conduct of the young person where possible, and protocol states they should release them to their parents as quickly as possible.
“It is better to give the young accused, a second chance, and help in rehabilitation,” he added.
5. Alternative Media, TheOnlineCitizen singled out as source of inaccurate reports
As part of his ministerial statement, Minister Shanmugam spoke up about how alternative media has been a source of inaccurate reports, including reports about being intimidated by five police officers and being denied food and drink. Local alternative news site The Online Citizen was singled out as a main source of inaccurate reports and led readers to believe that the boy committed suicide as a result of the interrogation, when in fact there is no clear evidence linking the two events.
“It has gone on a planned, orchestrated campaign, using falsehoods, and has published about 20 articles or so as part of its campaign,” he said.
A big swaying factor of The Online Citizens’ reports includes assertions by Mr Thio Shen Yi, president of the Law Society of Singapore, who claimed that five officers took Lim to the police station. Though five officers went to the school, there was only ever a maximum of three officers with him the entire time. Mr Thio also made his statements without consulting psychologists for expert advice.
“It is sad to see the level of dishonesty and politicisation of this matter. Where the police are wrong – we must and will take action. But we should not allow deliberate, dishonest attacks,” said Mr Shanmugam.
The sad case of Benjamin Lim has shown us the dangers of making speculations with little information. By drawing hasty conclusions based on untruths and half-truths, alternative media have the power to sway people to believing unsubstantiated statements and wild claims. This could potentially lead to mob mentalities. It may have started as a way to capture eyeballs and increase page views for the alternative news site, but it inevitably affects the affected parties and the public.
Meantime, the police will be reviewing their guidelines for dealing with young people.
As much as its difficult to accept, the only person who would know what went on in Benjamin Lim’s mind is Lim himself. Suicide, especially of a young person, is always a terrible thing for the parents and the society at large to deal with. At a time like this, it is easy to get carried away by emotions. Like it or not, Benjamin’s death has ‘clouded’ the issue, and perhaps some people’s thinking as well. But while it is paramount that we take care of our youths, we also gotta remember to get our facts right, and not push blame to the easiest targets.
Minister Shanmugam has put up his full speech and other related information online.