Restore Ogawa Ryuju’s citizenship

If the government does not act fast to rectify Ogawa Ryuju’s citizenship, someone somewhere will make political hay of it. And not just for the present; this is the kind of case that has the potential to be cited again and again for years to come to make a political point.

His story is on Yahoo’s Fit To Post.  Briefly, it is this: Ogawa’s citizenship has been revoked because he failed to take an oath of allegiance prior to his 22nd birthday.  This is a requirement for all persons who are born abroad and claim citizenship through descent via one parent.

Ogawa was born to a Japanese father and Singaporean mother in Japan, but has lived in Singapore since age 10 and has even completed his National Service.

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) claims they sent him two notices to take the oath of allegiance. He claims he never received these notices. The only letter he received came a month after his 22nd birthday, informing him that his citizenship had been revoked.

This sounds to me like one of the many bureaucratic imbroglios the average Singaporean faces every day. The law is rigid, civil servants are even more rigid and the man in the street is just frustrated beyond belief. In Ogawa’s case however, being rendered stateless is a very serious matter. It has been two-and-a-half months since 31 August 2010, his 22nd birthday, and the fact that it is making the news indicates that the wheels of our bureaucracy are simply not turning.

It should be obvious that this is a guy who identifies as Singaporean, who lives here and is rooted here, who wants to be a citizen and who has done his part by completing National Service. If indeed for whatever reason he failed to comply with legal requirements, someone somewhere should have quickly looked for another legal way to rectify the situation. We register new citizens every day; what is so difficult to just make him one?

Ogawa is not a high-flier. According to Yahoo, he has merely an N-level, though since he is only 22, there is every possibility that he could pursue more qualifications in the years ahead, though I would hasten to assert that a person’s true worth is not measured by qualifications. But it is precisely because he is not a high-flier that his case can be used to bite the government politically.

Just two weeks ago, both the Straits Times and Today newspaper trumpetted the news that Stanchart Bank’s regional head for Southeast Asia, Ray Ferguson (left), had acquired Singapore citizenship. Neither of UK-born Ferguson’s parents were Singaporean. He had not been educated in Singapore, nor had he done National Service, and yet our propaganda machine wants us to think it is such great news that he has chosen a pink identity card and a red passport.

It does not take much for someone to tell voters: See? The Singapore government is laying out the red carpet again to total foreigners simply because they are part of elite ranks while treating true-blue Singaporeans like dirt. If you have an N-level, they don’t even want you to be a Singapore citizen. But before they chuck you out, they extract two years of National Service from you first.

Once planted into our political discourse, this example will be impossible to remove from people’s minds.

(Actually, it would also be good if Ferguson, exercising his new citizen rights, would stand up and say: Give Ogawa citizenship now.)

* * * * *

What exactly is the law?

It is found in our constitution, Article 122 of which says:

It appears that Ogawa qualified per Clause (3) while he was a minor, thus explaining his pink identity card and his liability for National Service. However, Clause (4)  tripped him up.

Maybe the law is so rigid that he cannot now take the oath after his 22nd birthday, but any civil servant acting with sincerity and sympathy should be able to find a way around it. Article 123 of the constitution for example, which is used to register new citizens such as Ray Ferguson, can easily be used to re-register Ogawa.

As far as I can see, he meets all conditions (a) to (e) of Article 123.

The ICA should assign an officer to fasttrack his case and sort this problem out before it causes further distress to him and morphs into a political issue.

* * * * *

[Post-script, 12 March 2011:  It was reported in the news a few days ago that Ogawa has been reinstated as a Singapore citizen. He has taken his oath of allegiance alongside several new citizens.]

18 Responses to “Restore Ogawa Ryuju’s citizenship”

  1. 1 Robox 20 November 2010 at 05:40

    “If indeed for whatever reason he failed to comply with legal requirements, someone somewhere should have quickly looked for another legal way to rectify the situation.”

    This provides me the opportunity to make an additional point. “Citizenship” is a right that belongs in the category known as immunity, the best known example being diplomatic immunity. Once granted, citizenship cannot be revoked. (Only permanent residency can be subject to conditions and thus can be revoked.)

    I will not be surprised if I learnt that there is actually a UN convention that makes this explicit seeing that these are the types of isues that the UN would have been involved in at its inception.

    Thus, it is surprising to me that anyone’s citizenship can be revoked, even by way of Article 122(4).

  2. 2 thornofplenty 20 November 2010 at 05:42

    I wholly agree with YB on this. And was thinking almost exactly the same thing when I read the story on Yahoo – down to wanting the Standard Chartered guy to lend his voice to the issue. Weird, when you read things like that and wonderful when it’s articulated more clearly than you imagined. Thank you for articulating it.

    I don’t mean to be flip, but in a way, Ogawa Ryuju has already failed the test of Singaporean culture, he didn’t follow the rules, regardless of whether or not that was his fault, he didn’t follow the rules.

    I don’t believe the course of action the YB describes is any less urgently appropriate, to me, this case is a strong argument to question our intense desire to have people “follow the rules”

  3. 3 KiWeTO 20 November 2010 at 08:26


    he is not the first to have fallen through absolutist application of SG laws’ cracks.

    Reposted from thinkcentre
    “Lim was born in Singapore 33 years ago and served in the nation’s military for two years. Lim’s parents were not married when he was born. It meant Lim did not automatically qualify for citizenship. “The government needs to overcome discriminative practice by recognising as citizens children born of Singapore citizen and foreign parent [regardless of their marital status]”. Think Centre ”
    Similarly, Lim had served NS. And due to his complex ‘legal status’, was also stateless after serving his 2 years.

    And, pulled from a blogpost from back in 2003 (thanks, internet!), this was apparently the text of the official reply from ICA then.
    Reasons why Barnabas is not a citizen

    I REFER to Mr Barnabas Lim Ah Huat’s letter, ‘Born and bred here but he is ‘Stateless’ ‘ (ST, Sept 27), and the letters by Ms Lydia Rahman and Mr Michael Loh Yik Ming (‘Do the right thing by Barnabas’ and ‘Issue is one of legitimacy, not citizenship’; ST, Oct 1).

    We would like to clarify why Mr Lim was not conferred Singapore citizenship at birth. He could not take on his father’s Singapore citizenship because, as Mr Lim had noted, his parents were not legally married at the time of his birth.

    He also could not be conferred Singapore citizenship through his mother as she was not a Singapore citizen then. These are provided for in the Singapore Constitution.

    Mr Lim was called up for national service because he was granted Singapore permanent residency when he was 12 years old.

    Every citizenship application is assessed carefully on its own merits.

    The factors taken into consideration include the extent of family roots in Singapore, the legality of the parents’ marriage at the time of birth, national service performance, the good-conduct records of the applicant and the sponsor, and other compassionate factors.

    When Mr Lim applied again for Singapore citizenship last year, our officers explained to him why his past citizenship applications had not been successful. Being born and having grown up in Singapore does not automatically entitle a person to Singapore citizenship.

    If Mr Lim needs further clarification, he may wish to contact us on 6391-6186.

    Corporate Communications Branch
    for Commissioner Immigration and Checkpoints Authority
    (verification of the accuracy of this text cannot be determined)

    Yes, both are not paragons of meritocratically-successful Singaporeans. But, in their minds, are they anything but Singaporean? In our minds, are they not Singaporean born and bred?

    What is Singaporean? A useful red passport that enables easy travel around the world? Or perhaps something more intangible and linked to belief and self-identity?

    [Unfortunately, the story of any kind of successful closure to Mr Barnabas Lee’s story was never reported. Did he get his identity and sense of nationhood back ultimately? Who knows? Short-attention-span-news-providers didn’t tell. ]

    [Yes, I also did write a letter to the ST Forum to argue that he is Singaporean (faults et al) in all but a piece of plastic. Back in 2003. Pithy I can’t quite find it at the moment. Apparently it can be found here, but ONLY viewable from NLB workstations inside the library. ]

  4. 4 curious frog 20 November 2010 at 09:39

    It seems that Singapore care only about image and money. It’s a shame that this young man made the ultimate sacrifice for this country in doing in National service and is booted out !

    People follow rules and are not encouraged to think outside the box.
    I hope he finds a sympathetic ear in the ICA to redress this situation.

  5. 5 mobe 20 November 2010 at 10:02

    According to the article on yahoo (see below), it appears that he was told to re-apply for citizenship as a way around that administrative issue. Somehow he seems more interested in making some point and request for apologies instead. So it is not as if ICA refuses to do something about it. Having principles is a good thing but I’m not sure if this issue is worth going to the extent of punishing oneself. In a similar situation I would certainly make them known my displeasure at the situation but I would also focus on getting a new passport and moving on with my life. I think many Singaporeans also have a pragmatic view of things and would not understand why this guy just does not play the game and instead chooses to go public. That’s why I doubt this can be of much political significance as ICA will easily be able to not only prove that 2 letters were sent at the right address, but also that they have advised him what he should do in order to solve the problem and just refuses to collaborate.

    “His Member of Parliament assisting him in this matter, Mr Heng Chee How, had advised him to re-apply for Singapore citizenship.

    However, Ryuju is holding strong to his principles.

    “I believe that this situation is the fault of the ICA. If they had handled the situation well, there would not have been this miscommunication. Instead, they do not even want to admit that they have any fault to play at all. I believe that all humans make mistakes, and I’m seeking an apology from their side on this mix-up before I apply again,” he added.”

    • 6 yawningbread 20 November 2010 at 13:01

      If it is indeed a case of Ogawa wanting to make a public issue of the matter, then More power to him. It is no reason to say he deserves less sympathy just because he will not be meek about it. Precisely because he will not roll over and become all obsequious, he is the kind of citizen Singapore needs!

      • 7 2cents 21 November 2010 at 15:28

        Not willing to “roll over & become all obsequious” is not the same as having the facts on your side. Ryuju’s claims of not receiving the 2 notifications, or that ICA miscommunicated or it is ICA’s fault, etc, are just that – claims, not facts. Hardly any reasonable ground for demanding an apology, much less rejecting an available solution.

      • 8 Poker Player 25 November 2010 at 15:48

        And notice 2cent’s Singaporean reflex. The “having the facts on your side” comment is applied to Ryuju. I don’t see it anywhere applied the govt.

      • 9 2cents 14 December 2010 at 21:29

        Poker Player – what I mentioned about “having the facts on your side” is a specific referernce to yawningbread’s putting Ogawa on a pedestal as “the kind of citizen Singapore needs!”. Anything else you do not understand?

  6. 10 curious frog 20 November 2010 at 10:26

    Quoting Mobe:

    I think many Singaporeans also have a pragmatic view of things and would not understand why this guy just does not play the game and instead chooses to go public.

    I am a foreigner here and I must say this puzzles me. I do understand about playing the game, if the rules are fair on both sides.We know that they are stacked against people that have lower qualifications, or not enough connections..
    He goes public because he is not afraid to stand up for what he thinks is just ! Too many robots in this country . Is that fear or apathy ? Just wondering.

  7. 11 Tanky 20 November 2010 at 19:48

    Guys and gals,

    Think EVA, or Economic Value Add. A few people I know, who have been PRs here for three decades, suddenly took up Singapore citizenship. Their decision process is — me getting old and soon might be out of job. Better get the citizenship fast before they don’t want me liao. They don’t think pleading with the authority that their spouse and kids are Singaporeans and that they have been contributing to Singapore for the past decades will do them any good once they are seen as “expired” goods.

    • 12 Rojakgirl 22 November 2010 at 08:05

      Generally speaking, I see too many Singaporeans being arrogant, cold and ruthless when it comes to others but when crap hits them, they start crying for help like a toddler. Sad because they’re not cute enough like babies, to make me pardon their behaviour.

      He should approach someone for help lahz. It’s good to get some publicity but a lone swordsman will face defeat when facing a mountain.

      Also, I don’t see why he can’t get any apologies from the ICA. If the letter was so important, why did they use one singular method of communication? Why not multiple methods like email, sms or phone call, snail mail, etc.? It totally beats me why they use registered mail which is sometimes even worse than snail mail(depending on the estate you live in). Please don’t tell me the ICA doesn’t even know the sorry state of Singpost? They can’t have totally lost touch with Singapore, have they? Because Singpost has been providing really bad service for the last 3 to 5 or more years, ever since they were privatised! And now that Ta Q Bin is here, looks like the Japanese company will give them a run for their money.

      Look, I understand that the grunts try their best to keep the agencies going but at times, some empathy is needed. Because see? The entire situation is starting to look really bad.

  8. 14 Bollocks 22 November 2010 at 17:25

    Did not the old English man who married one of the female MP get fast tracked citizenship. But I believe he choose to remain a PR

  9. 15 -M- 23 November 2010 at 00:02

    You would’ve thought that such important decision such as revoking a person’s citizenship are not taken on the basis of the delivery of 2 “unregistered” mail and the absence of a follow up phone call.

  10. 16 26 November 2010 at 17:49


    You’ll be surprised that many of these ‘cold’ hard hearted’ Singaporeans were not born in Singapore.

    This is not a quick conclusion but one based on witnessing the changing human landscape in Singapore. Trust me, it is no fairy tale that Singapore in the past was a very human oriented place, so much so that many of us took human kindness for granted. Things like helping your neighbour, general show of empathy and above all, a sense of the One Islander prevailed. You’ll be surprised that racial harmony was really stronger. Everyone went on with their different lifestyle and living with due consideration for others. You have to live during those times to believe it.

    But more important still is that community ties were tightly woven and news as well as gossip travel faster than ST.

    People were never assessed on their economic positions alone as social and interpersonal association in the human network differentiated the insider from the stranger.

    So which, the ang moh who came riding on a high horse only after Singapore attained economic success or the boy who has spent a good part of his life here, deserves the citizenship?

    • 17 Rojakgirl 3 December 2010 at 00:04

      I beg to differ. When I was young, I was subject to a lot of racism and criticism and even favouritism: people being nice to you just because you “look good” and being cruel to you when the circumstances change. And also, people hated me and ripped me off just ‘cos I was the wrong skin color even though I was Chinese: too fair, you see. Thanks to that, I hated my mother language so much I wouldn’t even speak it for years. And now of all things, people ask me how I’m so fair and pale(whitening trend) and being nice towards me ‘cos of that.

      Then there were the ones who were being sweet and nice just because your parents are in good positions so they hope to gain a favour or two. And the minute the parents aren’t around, they’re so quick to change their tune and act like the true snakes they are.

      I also got hit on and ogled by a lot of dirty old men too and not a single soul bothered to step in. It was a case of “preserving their own skin and face” or “minding my own business”. I think the chinese is “bu guan xian shi”.

      Thanks to that, I slowly understood how humans can be such hypocrites and even though I understand it now, I still hate the idealism and values of “outsiders” and “insiders”.

      Oh well, things have passed and I’ve got other things to do now. Let the fools suffer their fates, if they really want to. 🙂 If they’re content to have pedophiles and racist nutheads run around in this country, it’s their game then. 🙂

  11. 18 Somebody 12 December 2010 at 02:17

    This is just one part of saying from one party. Maybe we should wait for the respond from other party. Its too early to comment anything at all. What happen if one person have received and choose to ignore the letter or maybe the mail send wrongly to another address. Its too early to judge anything yet. Its maybe harsh to drop citizenship because of the vow. Its still a law.
    Not as if that you did not know the law can be an excuse from it.

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