Special Correspondent

Activist questioned, detained in Singapore airport

  • Locked up in the "police resting room"
  • He was only transiting through Singapore
  • Singapore authorities evidently had a check-list

    MUMBAI: "The World Bank-IMF enjoys human rights violations and they care least for human rights," said Wilfred D'Costa, general secretary of the Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), who was deported on Wednesday by the Singapore government.

    He was perceived to pose a threat to the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank scheduled to be held in Singapore on September 19 and 20.

    After his arrival at 7 a.m. on September 13, Mr. D'Costa was questioned by the Singapore police for five to six hours after which he was locked up in the "police resting room" at the airport for another six hours before he was put on the return flight to Mumbai. He was not allowed to use his telephone or the Internet. He was given a letter saying that he was being deported before being locked up.

    Strangely, Mr. D'Costa had no intention of attending the World Bank-IMF meeting and was transiting through Singapore to attend a parallel protest meeting organised by the International People's Forum at Batam Island, which is about half an hour by ferry from Singapore. "I had a two-year multiple entry visa which was cancelled," Mr. D'Costa told The Hindu . This meeting was to be held from September 15 to 17.

    "As soon as the person at the immigration counter saw my passport, I was taken away. I was grilled for five or six hours by the police and every half an hour they had a new person to question me," he said. They asked Mr. D'Costa why he had gone to Germany earlier this year. "I was invited by the German government for a meeting on water issues and they kept asking me reasons and trying to establish that I was some global protestor," he said. The authorities took his pictures and fingerprints and issued him a `Notice of Refusal of Entry No. CA024424' citing that he was ineligible for the issue of a pass under current immigration rules.

    The Singapore authorities evidently had a check-list of protestors from previous years but Mr. D' Costa said he had not been anywhere except to Hong Kong last year for the World Trade Organisation meeting. The INSAF is a network of over 600 member organisations across India that works to "resist globalisation, combat communalism and defend democracy." Mr. D'Costa is based in Ahmedabad.

    He is on the regional committee of Jubilee South, which is an Asia Pacific movement on debt and development. The International People's Forum is against the international funding agencies and the meeting was to give a call to shut down such agencies.

    Blacklisted

    Benny Kuruvilla of the Focus On the Global South, a policy research organisation, said that six organisations and 28 activists from these groups were blacklisted for the meeting and Focus was one of them. "Five of us in Focus got a letter some time back saying that if we tried to enter Singapore we would be sent back," said Mr. Kuruvilla. The other organisations include the U.K.-based World Development Movement, INFID, a Forum of Indonesian NGOs and one of the key organisers of the Batam meeting and Campaign to Reform the World Bank, based in Italy.

    Among those on the blacklist is Shalmali Guttal, a researcher with the Focus on the Global South. Ms. Guttal has sent a letter of protest to Ministers Anand Sharma and E. Ahamed, requesting that they take up the matter urgently with the Singapore Government, the World Bank and IMF. Interestingly both the World Bank and IMF took issue with the Singapore Government on the ban.

    A joint statement from the two organisations issued on September 8 states: "We believe that all individuals who have been accredited to the annual meetings should be allowed to attend. We strongly urge the Singapore Government to act swiftly and reverse their decision on entry and access to the meetings for these representatives."