Those who tuned into the Parliament Sitting yesterday (1 Nov) probably weren’t prepared for the bombshell that Raeesah Khan dropped.
The Worker’s Party (WP) MP, who was elected in GE 2020 to serve the residents of Sengkang, admitted to lying about an anecdote she shared in parliament in August.
She was deemed to have breached her parliamentary privilege and could face retribution as a result.
So, what happened exactly, and what’s next for the WP MP?
Here are 10 facts about the Raeesah Khan incident, the story everyone’s talking about at the moment.
In August, She Accused the Police of Mishandling a Rape Case
It all started on 3 Aug this year, during a parliamentary debate on a motion about empowering women.
Khan recounted a troubling incident which she claimed to have witnessed three years ago, where she had accompanied a 25-year-old rape survivor to make a police report.
She claimed the alleged victim had left the police station crying due to comments the police officer had made about her dressing and her drinking.
MPs of the ruling party asked for more details, saying allegations of police mishandling cases are taken seriously, but Khan said she didn’t want to elaborate for fear of re-traumatising the woman.
Police Said They Couldn’t Find Any Records of Mishandled Sexual Assault Case
Given how serious these allegations were – that an officer had mishandled a rape case – the authorities unsurprisingly conducted investigations into the matter.
However, after checking their records, the police said they couldn’t find any case which fit Khan’s description.
When Asked About the Incident Again by the Law Minister, She Refused to Provide Details
Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam revealed this in another parliamentary session on 4 Oct, and asked Khan for more details including:
- which police station she had accompanied the victim to
- details about the police officers who allegedly mishandled the case
- the rough date of the incident
- whether she had filed a complaint about the matter or brought the case to the attention of the police
At the time, Mr Shanmugam said he empathised with the need to avoid re-traumatising victims – adding that there’s no need to disclose the victim’s name in an investigation – but said the government takes allegations concerning the police very seriously.
That’s why it’s important to identify the officers involved in the alleged incident and hear their side of the story before coming to a decision on how to proceed, he explained.
However, Khan declined to provide more details.
“With regard to confidentiality (of) the survivor, I would not like to reveal any of this information,” she said.
She Initially Ignored SPF’s Requests to Attend an Interview
Since she didn’t provide more details, Mr Shanmugam said the police would continue their investigations and interview her as well.
However, she failed to respond to two requests sent by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) for an interview.
Given her hesitance to provide more details, no one really knew how this matter would be resolved.
But then yesterday, this happened:
She Admitted to Lying About the Incident in Parliament
Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Khan admitted to lying about details of the rape case which she brought up in August, saying she was “not present with the survivor in the police station as [she had] described”.
“The anecdote was shared by the survivor in a women’s support group for women which I was a part of. I did not share that I was a part of the group as I did not have the courage to publicly admit that I was a part of it,” she said.
She Revealed That She, Too, is a Survivor of Sexual Assault
In her admission, Khan revealed that she too is a survivor of sexual assault. She said she was sexually assaulted when she was 18 while studying abroad.
When asked by Leader of the House Indranee Rajah if it would have been possible to relay the anecdote without lying or referring to the support group, Khan said it would have been, but she made a mistake in her haste and passion to “advocate for survivors like myself.”
“I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I did not have my own courage to report on my own assault. So I felt very compelled to ensure that other survivors who do get the courage to report their assault to have that process done with respect and with dignity,” she added.
She Claimed She Lied Because She Wanted to Protect The Survivor’s Identity
Naturally, one wonders why Khan didn’t come clean earlier, given that she was asked for more details about the case on several occasions.
When Ms Indranee posed this question to her, Khan said she wanted to protect the survivor and others in the support group.
“It’s really difficult to share a traumatic experience like this and to share that I was a part of that group in the first place,” she said.
She also acknowledged, however, that she should not have shared the anecdote without the survivor’s consent, and apologised to her.
“To survivors of sexual violence, I hope that this does not deter you from reporting your assaults,” she said.
She Apologised to the SPF & WP; Promised to Work Harder For the Residents of Sengkang
In her admission, the 28-year-old apologised to both SPF and her party.
“As a survivor myself, I feel this failure deeply. It is important for me to take responsibility for my actions for my error of judgment and to set the record straight. I wish to correct the record by retracting the anecdote that I shared on Aug 3, and I wish to apologise to the Singapore Police Force,” she said.
“Lastly, I want to apologise to the survivor whose quote I used, to the House, to my constituents, to the Workers’ Party, its members and volunteers, and to my family, especially to my parents.”
Khan also promised to work “even harder” for the residents of Sengkang.
AWARE “Shocked” By Admission; WP Responds
The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) said it was “shocked and disappointed” by Khan’s revelation in parliament.
“While we believe that her intentions – to raise the need for more sensitive first response from officials handling sexual violence cases – were sound, we are disappointed that Ms Khan lied about the details of this situation,” it said in a Facebook post.
“Such behaviour only sets back advocacy around sexual violence in Singapore and does a disservice to other survivors, for various reasons.”
AWARE noted that such behaviour plays into the persistent myth that women frequently lie about assault, which has long been used to discredit survivors. However, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs, only 4% of sexual assault reports are found to be false.
“On the other hand, the majority of survivors don’t file police reports,” it said.
WP chief Pritam Singh issued a response on Facebook as well, saying Khan should not have shared an anecdote that contained untruths.
“The Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act gives an MP significant freedom of speech, to the extent that what is said in Parliament cannot be impeached or questioned outside Parliament. However, this freedom of speech does not extend to communicating untruthful accounts, even if an MP’s motives are not malicious,” he wrote.
He acknowledged that she had apologised, and said that it was the “correct thing to do”.
Many Netizens Believe She Should Resign
Netizens have voiced their outrage over Khan’s admission, with commenters on Singh’s post – presumably WP supporters – calling for her resignation.
An online poll conducted on Hardware Zone also showed that 85% of voters in the poll believe Khan should step down from her post.
She Could Face Fine or Even Jailtime For Breaching Parliamentary Privilege
After her admission yesterday, Ms Indranee lodged a complaint against Khan for uttering untruths in Parliament as she was deemed to have breached her parliamentary privilege.
For those who don’t know, parliamentary privilege allows MPs to speak freely on issues without fear of legal consequences.
As a result, Khan has been referred to the Committee of Privileges, which is made up of eight MPs.
Ms Indranee and Mr Shanmugam will recuse themselves from the case, meaning the committee will comprise:
- Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin
- Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu
- Minister for National Development Desmond Lee
- Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli,
- MP Don Wee (PAP-Chua Chu Kang)
- MP Dennis Tan (WP-Hougang)
If found guilty of engaging in “dishonourable conduct, abuse of privilege or contempt”, as stated in Section 20 of the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act, Parliament can:
- commit Khan to a prison term not extending beyond the current session of Parliament
- impose a fine not exceeding S$50,000
- suspend Khan from Parliament for the remainder of the current session or for any part
Khan can also be reprimanded by the Speaker.
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