Continued from part 2.
Soon after his acquittal on the first of three charges, Shahidulla got another shock. His key witness, crane operator Hassan, was called up by the case officer at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for an interview, and the next thing Shahidulla’s lawyer heard was that Hassan had become a prosecution witness for the forthcoming trial!
How did that happen? No one was sure. But without his one and only witness, things looked bleak for the upcoming trial over the remaining charges.
As Parts 1 and 2 of this story explained, Shahidulla Anser Ali was assaulted by his boss in March 2014. This was after Shahidulla, as safety supervisor, refused to let a lifting operation proceed because he was not assigned the requisite number of men to do it safely. When probed by the Ministry of Manpower, the employer said that the assault never happened, and the ministry then charged Shahidulla for making a false claim.
Devout Muslim as he is, Shahidulla prays at a mosque regularly. No doubt, he beseeches Allah for help. It cannot be God’s wish that an innocent man goes to jail, can it?
One day, he spotted Dulal at the mosque. Dulal was a co-worker in the same company, but he had left his job some months ago and had gone back to Bangladesh. “What are you doing here in Singapore?” asked Shahidulla.
Dulal said he was back at a new job with another employer.
“Do you remember the incident when Boss punched and kicked me?” asked Shahidulla.
He did, and with no hesitation agreed to testify on Shahidulla’s behalf.
Shahidulla brought Dulal to the lawyer’s office where a sworn statement was taken. “Even make video with magistrate,” explained Shahidulla.
As for Hassan, the original witness for the defence, he called Shahidulla regularly despite this turn of events. Hassan repeatedly assured Shahidulla that it was not his wish to become a prosecution witness, and that he stood by his original story.
Nevertheless, Shahidulla grew more and more anxious as the date of the second trial approached. Anything could happen. Powerful gears have been set into motion that a small guy like him would not be able to stop. Specifically, what would the prosecution lawyer make of Hassan’s testimony? What was the secret juice that could turn testimony for the defence into a witness for the prosecution?
About a month before the May 2016 trial date, Hassan told Shahidulla he had been called to the legal department of MOM. According to what Shahidulla told TWC2, Hassan took the opportunity to express to MOM’s legal officers his unhappiness that whatever he had told the case officer earlier in the year was being ignored. Reports Shahidulla: “Hassan said he was very angry with the MOM case officer. He said, ‘I say so many things to him, but he [the case officer] didn’t record.’ ”
Other than that, it is not known what transpired at the meeting at MOM’s legal department, but it appears that Hassan stood by his original testimony.
On 9 May 2016, Shahidulla and his lawyer made it to the Straits Times. “MOM drops charges”, said the headline, further explained thus: “Bangladeshi charged with lying that supervisor injured him in 2014, but new witness backs his version of events.” See thumbnail at right.
So all’s well that ends well, you say? It may be. For Shahidulla. But unfortunately, for most other migrant workers in similar situations, it does not end well. How many of them you reckon can find witnesses who are able or willing to corroborate their story?
So what is next for Shahidulla you ask? He has been fighting this battle since March 2014. He was the victim of assault but being wrongly accused, he had to spend two years fighting his case, all the while forbidden to take up employment and running from pillar to post to prove his innocence. And now even with the acquittal, he is no better off than where he when he started. He has been jobless for 26 months now. He still does not have a right to look for a new job even now that the case is over.
So truth prevailed but when the sound of drum rolls fades and the mental cartwheels stop, faith in the system is under question again. Shahidulla is just left wondering how will the truth help him recover two years of lost earnings? How will he move on to give his family a better life?
And will MOM now be as quick to prosecute the employer for making false claims as officials were to take Shahidulla to court? Or is there one law for employers, another for workmen?
Shahidulla flew home on 19 May 2016.