Salauddin broke down in tears when the court acquitted him, late December 2012. But by then, he had already lost his freedom for five months. And through that period, his family wondered what became of him and why remittances stopped.

All because he didn’t have money for bail.

He didn’t even have the $10 that a teenage girl was allegedly asking for in return for sex. More on Salauddin’s case below.

Once in a while, low-wage foreign workers are caught by the police on suspicion of an offence. Some are guilty, some are not. For both, there is a long wait between being charged and the conclusion of the case, even if they are innocent. Bail money makes the difference between being held in remand for months and being let out and continuing to work to support their families. But low-wage workers rarely have the cash at hand for bail.


Yousuf, Humayun and Palayandi

Based on cases that Transient Workers Count Too have seen over the years, it is usually the employer who stands bail. For example, see our story about Yousuf, whose boss stood bail for him after he was accused of manslaughter and causing grievous hurt. He was eventually found guilty and given a short prison sentence for that negligent act, an awful enough punishment, but in the two years and four months that he was waiting for the conclusion to the trial, he was allowed to work because his boss stood bail and trusted him to carry on working. This made a huge difference: he was able to work and provide for his family. If his boss hadn’t stood bail, he would have been held in remand prison possibly for that length of time, just waiting for his case to come to trial.

Humayun was charged with outrage of modesty in July 2010. Just as fortunate for Humayun, his supervisor was willing to stand bail of $2,000, which allowed him to continue working until the expiry of his work permit. He was earning more than $900 each month, money he sorely needed to support his own family, and pay the medical expenses of his cousin who suffered and eventually died of a brain tumour in Bangladesh.

The charge of outrage of modesty began when a young girl felt someone squeeze her while she was playing in a playground. She didn’t have a clear look at the man, but saw him run towards a construction site. Police called to the scene rounded up the men working there. She couldn’t identify any of the men in the first line-up of about twelve men, but pointed at Humayun when the police found two more men in the dormitory. Humayun maintained his innocence. The girl’s family failed to appear when the police asked them for further questioning, leaving the investigation hanging for more than two years.

When the work permit expired on 13 January 2013, Humayun was ready to go home to his family and the baby boy he’d never seen. The police finally issued a letter on 28 January 2013 saying that they have decided to take no further action against him. He received his final salary, and returned home on 31 January.

Had his supervisor not stood bail, he would have spent that amount of time rotting behind bars. Moreover, being free, he was able to enlist the assistance of TWC2 to discuss and resolve the case with the police, allowing him to go home the same month his work permit expired. Had he been in a lock-up and unable to communicate with TWC2, it is possible that it would have taken much longer to close the case even though it was short of evidence.

Palayandi, on Special Pass after a foot injury in September 2009, was caught urinating in public on 11 December 2009. Very likely, he didn’t understand the notice advising him to pay the fine of $150 failing which he must appear in court on 18 January 2010. He appeared at the Cuff Road Project in April 2010 showing a TWC2 volunteer the warrant for his arrest issued because he hadn’t appeared in court. The volunteer stood bail and assisted him to pay the fine. Otherwise Palayandi would have had a police record, and would not have been allowed to return to work in Singapore, nor perhaps other countries.


Beyond his comprehension or control

Mohammed Salauddin Mohammed Dudu Mia, 29, (pictured above) is a simple guy, illiterate, with only 2 years of primary education. He was accused in August 2012, together with several friends, of having sex with a minor. He protested his innocence, but says the police didn’t understand him. Perhaps it was because his English was very poor, or the police didn’t believe him when he said he had no money anyway to buy her services.

He had started working as a cleaner in October 2009 for $420 a month. Even with overtime and increments, he was grossing just $800 a month by the time of his arrest, every cent of which was needed to pay off the employment agent’s fee of $8,000 and to support his family. His father died six months after he started working in Singapore, and his 50-year old mother is bedridden, looked after by his divorced older sister. His older brother sells cigarettes, making about S$90 a month. Salauddin’s job was salvation for his poor family. He wasn’t interested in squandering money on sex, or getting embroiled in the trouble this girl might cause. This job was too precious to sacrifice for a brief moment’s fun.

Yet, he found himself caught up in circumstances beyond his comprehension or control. The police must have assumed that all the men they rounded up were equally culpable.

Without anyone to bail him out, he was held in remand for almost five months until the trial in December.

Six of his friends had been found guilty in an earlier trial for having sexual relations with the young girl, now aged fifteen, who had asked for between $5 and $20. They were sentenced to between 17 and 20 months in prison, but Salauddin was finally acquitted. The cleaner told the judge in his defence that he didn’t even have on him the ten dollars that the girl was asking. What he made from work, he  would send nearly all home to support his family. Nor did he want to risk trouble with a young girl.

The prosecution’s case was weak, and this may explain why his trial was held later than his friends’ trial — which also meant that Salauddin’s remand period was longer. As reported by the Straits Times, 26 December 2012:

Judge Low said the Bangladeshi national had admitted to the police that he had met the girl and her friend in January last year. But during a five-day trial, he insisted that he did not have sex with either of them, because he had no money.

The judge noted that the charge did not specify the exact date, time or place of the offence – elements deemed necessary by the Criminal Procedure Code. He said: “What was significantly worrying was that the initial charge stated that the offence was committed in January last year on a staircase landing of Block 605 in Hougang, but when the trial started on Dec 19, the prosecution amended the charge to state that the offence was committed some time in July this year at the staircase landing of an unknown block in Hougang.”

The judge also noted that the statement Mr Md Salauddin gave to the police referred only to the alleged offence last year, and no further statements had been taken from him regarding the amended charge. The court also found that the testimony of the victim was too vague and was not collaborated with any other witness.

After his acquittal, Salauddin came to TWC2 to ask for help in getting reinstated to his old job. He and his family were desperate for income. But the employer explained that when the men were arrested, he cancelled their work permits, and replaced them with new workers. He had no current free quota (for foreign workers) to take Salauddin back.

Since Salauddin wanted desperately to continue working, TWC2 approached the Ministry of Manpower to enquire if he could transfer to another company, but the request was turned down. He returned to Bangladesh late February 2013, his dreams dashed.


The difference bail makes

These few cases show how devastating the situation can become if an accused worker is unable to find someone to bail him out. Migrant workers are particularly at risk because they have no family members here to help. Nor are their few friends able to help because they themselves earn so little.

Often, it’s a caring employer who makes the difference.

Allowing the man to retain his position and continue working by standing bail is not in any way preventing justice from taking place. If found guilty he is eventually punished, but if innocent, the months lost in remand cannot be recovered. Allowing a man to continue working makes a huge difference to the family back home.