Archbishop, blogger clash 
    over report on ISA letter

   Yahoo News
September 20, 2012

By Elena Torrijos

A RCHBISHOP Nicholas Chia is in a war of words with a local blogger over a report that the religious leader had earlier backed a call to abolish the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows detentions without trial.

On his blog on Thursday, blogger Alex Au defended his post two days earlier where he cited second-hand reports that Chia, who heads the Catholic Church in Singapore, had sent and later retracted an unsolicited letter of support to a group organising an anti-ISA rally.

In a media statement carried on the Straits Times on Wednesday, Chia confirmed he had sent such a letter to an activist group called Function 8, but he explained that he decided to withdraw it as the “contents did not accurately reflect my views on the subject” and “may inadvertently harm the social harmony in Singapore”.

Chia also added that the article by Au “confirms the correctness” of his decision.

“These irresponsible actions can easily cause serious misunderstanding between the Catholic Church and the Government, and damage the long-standing trust and cooperation between the two. It is most regrettable that Au and the group have acted in this manner,” said Chia.

In his latest post titled What the Archbishop did not intend, Au said that on the contrary he believed it was the responsible thing to expose the hidden events to public scrutiny.

“They show Singaporeans the inner workings of how our country is governed, and transparency is essential to a healthier democracy. The very fact that powerful forces would want these goings-on to be kept from the public eye is itself suspicious,” he said.

Au had noted in his earlier post that Chia retracted his letter after having lunch with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean.

Other parties involved in the issue also came out with their reactions.

In a statement Thursday, MHA pointed out that government ministers regularly meet with various religious leaders in Singapore.

“Such closed-door meetings allow a frank exchange of views specially on sensitive subjects. This is a well-established process that is appreciated by both ministers and religious leaders,” MHA said.

The ministry further noted that the actions of the group “to publicise the matter through Mr Au is disrespectful of the Archbishop, and contrary to his views and intentions as conveyed to the group after he decided to retract his letter”.

It added that the “deliberate breach of the Archbishop’s trust confirms the objective of this group to publicly involve the Catholic Church and the Archbishop in their political agenda”.

Meanwhile, human rights non-governmental organisation Maruah, which organised the rally that was held on 2 June this year together with Function 8, expressed disappointment over the Archbishop’s remarks.

“An opportunity to understand the change in the position of the Archbishop vis-a-vis preventive detention without trial was missed,” Maruah president Braema Mathi said in a statement sent to the media late Thursday afternoon.

“We are still clueless as to whether there was intervention by the State in this matter and if so, on what grounds and to what extent. Instead civil society has been vilified in the Archbishop’s remarks which are the opposite of our intentions to preserve harmony by seeking clarifications,” she noted.

The organisation also gave some of the background to the anti-ISA rally and the actions relating to the Archbishop’s letters.

The NGO had been informed of the letters the Archbishop had sent to Function 8 as part of the collaboration for the rally.

Both Maruah and Function 8 decided not to publicise the letters – which reflected diverse views in relation to preventive detention without trial – until clarification was obtained from MHA and other relevant parties, Mathi disclosed.

“We agreed that after these approaches to reach out for dialogues had been tried and tested we would review this incident of the letters. It is unfortunate that the matter of the letters was leaked to the media before we could receive clarifications from the relevant bodies,” Mathi said.

On the Facebook page for the rally commemorating the anniversary of the alleged “Marxist Conspiracy” for which detentions without trial were made, Function 8 posted its response to the Archbishop’s statement.

Saying it was “saddened” by Chia’s remarks, the group noted that the Archbishop’s letter was not marked “private and/or confidential” and that it was intended to be made public on the day of the rally. The retraction of the letter prompted the group to cancel the plan.

The group also noted that Chia assumed that Au could only have gotten information about the letters from Function 8, but it asked, “Has His Grace forgotten that his second letter was cc to a third party and that his staff and others within the Church may also have sight of the letters?”

It also expressed puzzlement over how the religious leader could conclude that the disclosure of the letter could harm social harmony in Singapore.

“We request Archbishop Nicholas Chia to publish his first and second letters and advise on what transpired between the time his first letter was written and his second letter so that the public can judge for themselves whether the actions or inaction of Function 8 and Mr Au were “irresponsible and regrettable”. For clarity, His Grace should also make known to members of the public if his first letter to the organisers of the 2 June event was solicited or unsolicited,” it said.