AI update on Singapore

Amnesty International (AI) sends out regular updates on the human rights situation in Singapore. We reproduce the latest below.

Liberal International: further action in EU Commission and in Canada

– European Union Liberal Democrat Leader Graham Watson stated that the EU Commission is to monitor the human rights situation in Singapore following the arrests and prosecution of opposition political critics Dr Chee Soon Juan and Ghandi Ambalan. Its delegation in Jakarta will consult with Member State diplomatic missions in Singapore. Mr Watson spoke of the “blatant disregard of the Singaporean regime for democratic freedoms.” According to the Singapore Democratic Party(SDP), the US sent a letter to the Singapore authorities on their continued undemocratic practice. The SDP asks those concerned to sign the Liberal International petition at (SDP press release 2/12)

– Mr Watson wrote to the Financial Times (UK) criticising Imperial College, London (UK), for bestowing its highest honour on Lee Kuan Yew as a “person of distinction”. Mr Watson referred to Singapore’s “abuse of democracy and the increasingly intolerant one-party rule” and to the imprisonment of Dr Chee Soon Juan and Ghandi Ambalan. (Financial Times 27/10)

– Canadian MP Mme Raymonde Folco, one of two Canadian delegates to the Liberal International, circulated the Liberal International petition to Canadian Liberal MPs and Senators for their signatures. Amnesty International Canada has written to the Liberal Party of Canada urging action on the Liberal International resolution and petition. No reply has been received at this point.

Meeting in Melbourne, Australia

A major meeting of critics, including Dr Chee Soon Juan, Francis Seow and Tang Liang Hong, is planned for 10-12 January, 2003. The topic: Political Change in Singapore: An Agenda for Action. (Channel News Asia 30/11)

Dr Chee Soon Juan: resolve strengthened; government responds

– On his release after five weeks detention, he stated at the prison gates that his imprisonment had “strengthened [my] resolve and given me deeper insight…to want to see democracy come to Singapore.” In a letter to supporters and friends, he later wrote of his experiences in prison, referring to hearing the screams of those who are whipped, and to two inmates held under the Criminal Law Temporary Provisions Act (which empowers the government to detain suspects indefinitely when it is unable to secure a conviction in open court), one of whom said he wanted to commit suicide. Dr Chee stated his conviction, however, that “change must ultimately come for us Singaporeans…success will come, it is only a question of when and how.”

– During his imprisonment, the Asian Human Rights Commission issued an Urgent Appeal, stating that, according to his lawyer, Dr Chee was experiencing worse conditions than previously: he was in a badly ventilated cell with two other prisoners, was sleeping next to the toilet “bucket”, and sleeping only two or three hours a night, was feeling nauseous and dizzy, was unable to eat properly and was losing weight. His wife was reportedly harassed by the authorities. The AHRC stated that Singapore’s restrictive laws gave “sweeping” and too much discretionary powers to the “one-party run Singapore government and must be abolished.” (24/10) The World Organization Against Torture (Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture)(press release 31/10) and the Council of Asian Liberals protested his imprisonment and treatment.

– In a response to Jake Lloyd-Smith’s critical article in the South China Morning Post (5/12), Ong-Chew Peck Wan, Director, Corporate Communication Division, Ministry of Home Affairs, commented “There is no repression of opposition political parties in Singapore….The insinuations that Dr Chee was ailing, or abused, or suffering nausea and weight loss in prison, are baseless.” (South China Morning Post 16/12)

– Dr Chee visited Hong Kong at the end of November to speak to a number of organizations, including the Foreign Correspondents Club and Amnesty International.

Alledged terrorists: 31 ISA suspects held; white paper

– Singapore says it plans to publish a white paper early in 2003 on the terrorist threat in the country. Detained under the ISA are 31 men believed to be members of Jemaah Islamiya. (AFP 12/11) The Singapore government has asked the UN to add Jemaah Islamiyah to its list of terrorist organizations. (AFP 24/10) Zulfikar Mohd Shariff remains in Australia. He asserts that he wants Singapore to become a “transparent and just”country where Muslims can practise their faith without hindrance. He rejects claims that he is an extremist and an Al-Qaeda sympathiser and says he does not condone violence. AI is monitoring developments. (Malaysiakini 1/11)

– Singapore is reported to have a new security network of at least five organizations, each looking at different aspects of security, from police intelligence to operations, to coordinate responses to potential threats. (Straits Times 25/11)

Death Penalty

– An Australian magistrate has ordered Briton Michael McCrae to be extradited to Singapore. An appeal will be made on humanitarian grounds. Singapore has undertaken not to impose a death sentence. Mr McCrae wrote to the BBC saying he is not guilty of the double murders committed in January. (Straits Times 17/11, 21/11) His Singaporean business colleague Audrey Ong, who was implicated in the murders, has been extradited from Australia to Singapore. (Straits Times 12/11)

A Thai woman, charged in August with carrying nearly 1.3 kg methamphetamine,could face the death penalty. Another Thai woman, caught in October trying to smuggle 4,000 methamphetamine tablets, could face five or more years in jail for importation of a controlled drug.

Torture/ill treatment:canings

– A man was sentenced to a maximum 24 strokes of the cane and 24 years’ jail for sexually abusing his young stepdaughter. (Straits Times 31/10)

– Ng Hua Chye has been given 12 strokes of the cane. He is serving 18 1/2 years for manslaughter, convicted of hitting, burning and starving his maid to death. (Straits Times 21/11)

Also noteworthy

– In an article on China, writer Yoshiko Herrera, assistant professor of government at Harvard University, USA, writes: “There isn’t a magic process in which dictatorship is turned to democracy and there is no link between economic growth per se and democratization. Growth may cause other things, like a rise in education or changing values and interests, that can lead to demands for democracy. But to actually have a democracy, you need democratic institutions. You can’t just improve the economy; you need elections, freedom of association, freedom of the press and so on…Singapore, which has relatively low corruption, rule of law in economic matters, [has] no democracy.” ( 17/11)

– The Guardian (UK) (3/11): “The prime minister’s plans to issue on-the-spot fines to vandals and litterbugs might sound draconian to many British people but the penalties are nothing compared to the canings, jail terms and public shamings offenders face in Singapore”.

– Jake Lloyd-Smith, in the South China Morning Post, wrote that Singapore’s curbs on free speech look set to stay. In response to a question by opposition politician Steve Chia, Ho Peng Kee, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Law, said that the country’s free-speech rules were applied with a “light touch” and remained essential in a multi-racial society.