A man who was without a home for almost two weeks after returning to Singapore has been sentenced this week to seven weeks in jail for breaching a stay-home notice.
Singaporean national Rozman Abdul Rahman was arrested in March last year for breaking a rule requiring him to stay at home after he returned to Singapore from Batam, Indonesia. In safety measures introduced to counter a surge in COVID-19 cases in the early days of the pandemic, visitors had to serve a 14-day stay-home notice.
When he arrived in Singapore by ferry on March 20, 2020, Rozman had put his stepsister’s address for serving his stay-home notice. But instead of going to her house, he spent 13 days sleeping rough in places like a car park and a public walkway. It was later revealed that the siblings were estranged and no longer in touch.
During that period, he was working almost every night as a security guard at a grocery logistics company. He did not tell his employer about his stay-home notice.
On April 3, almost two weeks after Rozman arrived in Singapore, immigration officers visited his sister’s address and found that he had not been staying there. He was arrested later that day and charged under the Infectious Diseases Act.
“There should be a distinction between those who frivolously go out and breach SHN versus those with no choice… ”
The prosecution argued that Rozman had exposed others to the risk of infection by working, saying 13 days was an “almost unprecedented” breach of the stay-home notice.
Rozman’s defense lawyers said that he had tried to do his research on the COVID restrictions in Singapore and genuinely believed that he wouldn’t be subject to a stay-home notice when he arrived on March 20.
Azri Imran Tan and Joshua Chow, who were representing Rozman pro bono, also said that he was forced to work out of necessity to support himself and his family. He did not have enough money to top up his phone card, they said, adding that he was “homeless” after losing ownership of a shared flat with his ex-wife.
His being charged for not staying at home was a “cruel twist of irony,” they said.
"There should be a distinction between those who frivolously go out and breach SHN versus those with no choice, for reasons beyond their control or where there was an imperative," said Tan.
Authorities said Rozman should have informed them that he had no place to stay. Rozman pled guilty to his charge and has until Dec. 16 to file an appeal. After his arrest, a social worker helped Rozman find refuge in homeless shelters.
Singapore has been criticized for its harsh policies on marginalized communities in the name of COVID management—especially migrant workers, many of whom have been subjected to harsh restrictions on movement for more than a year following a COVID outbreak in their dormitories. These restrictions are just now starting to ease up.
Dozens of people have been fined or jailed for breaching their stay-home notices in Singapore, including one man who visited food courts and a supermarket and one woman who left her house to buy bubble tea.
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