Govt responds to NYT editorial on Little India Riot

SINGAPORE — In a strongly worded statement, the Government has taken issue with the New York Times for not publishing a letter by the Singapore Ambassador to the United States to “set out the facts”, in response to an editorial on the Little India riot.

“The New York Times, like any other newspaper, is entitled to express its own opinions. But when it suppresses rejoinders that express a contrary view, and show that the Times is mistaken, it gives the lie to its claim to champion freedom of speech and the truth,” said the Government in a statement issued today (Jan 14).

Published last month, the editorial, Singapore’s Angry Migrant Workers, claimed that the Little India riot was caused by the frustration of migrant workers over their wages and living conditions. It called on Singapore to ensure that transient workers here are “not marginalised and abused”.

Singapore Ambassador to the United States, Mr Ashok Kumar Mirpuri, responded to the Times a few days later. “Instead of publishing the letter, the Times prevaricated and raised fresh objections each time their previous objections were met,” said the Government.

“It objected to the Ambassador saying it had in any way been mistaken in its facts. It claimed that would render the letter a “correction”, which would have to be cleared by a senior editor, and would not be publishable in the letter pages.

“Then it objected to our setting out the facts as to who the rioters were, despite not having objected to this earlier. It also refused to allow the Ambassador to so much as suggest that the Times had been mistaken in its analysis of the causes of the riot,” said the Government.

TODAY has contacted the Times for comment.

Here is the letter Mr Mirpuri sent to the Times:

Singapore’s Angry Migrant Workers” (editorial, Dec. 28) suggested that 400 migrant workers in Singapore rioted on Dec 8 because of building frustration over their wages and living conditions, yet offered scant evidence for this.

The rioters were employed by dozens of different employers and stayed in different residential dormitories. The riot occurred on the workers’ day off and was localized to a congregation area for recreation. It did not spread to dormitories, workplaces or any other location. It is thus most unlikely that the rioters were motivated by the issues you ascribed.

The government’s preliminary assessment is that they acted spontaneously, triggered by a fatal traffic accident. In any case, a committee of inquiry, headed by a retired judge, will establish definitively the factors that led to the riot.

Migrant workers do contribute to our economy. They work legally and voluntarily. We strive to ensure that they are fairly treated and properly paid. Laws deal strictly with errant employers who ill-treat employees. Surveys show consistently that the vast majority of our migrant workers want to continue working in Singapore.

You state that “the government hopes to increase the overall population from 5.4 million to 6.9 million by 2030.” On the contrary, this was a top-end projection for purposes of long-term infrastructure planning. While we will continue to need migrant workers, especially for construction, we have been tightening the inflow of migrant workers to slow the growth of our population.

We will treat our migrant workers with respect, but will take firm action against those who break our laws.

Ashok Mirpuri

Singapore’s Ambassador to the United States

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