Singapore police slammed for “overzealous” May Day arrest

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – A Singapore civil rights group has complained of police being rough and overzealous in the arrest of opposition politician Chee Soon Juan for holding a May Day rally without a permit.

Chee was whisked away by officers outside the grounds of the president’s office on Wednesday as he spoke to a small crowd.

Political gatherings are rare in the city state and organisers must seek permission from the police beforehand.

The civil rights group, the Think Centre, said in a statement its members who attended the event were “appalled at the uncalled-for rough action and insensitive words of the Singapore police”.

“We feel the police were overzealous by going overboard to fulfil the orders given by their superiors,” it said.

Chee, chief of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), told Reuters on Thursday he was arrested before he could begin the “People Against Poverty” rally — a pun on the acronym of the long-ruling People’s Action Party.

“Singaporeans must really note what is the government so paranoid about? People coming together?” the free-speech proponent and former university lecturer said. “Are they fearful of people power?”

Chee, who is battling a defamation suit brought by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, has been jailed twice in the past for making speeches without a permit.

He was charged with wilful trespass on Wednesday.

Another SDP member, Gandhi Ambalam, who was to speak at the rally, and Muslim rights activist Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff were also arrested and charged with disorderly behaviour.

All three were released on bail on Wednesday evening and are due for a police hearing on May 14.

The police had turned down Chee’s application to stage the rally on the grounds that it might disrupt law and order.

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