Chee Siok Chin
The recent action taken by the Home Affairs Ministry to stop the would-be protesters against the impending war against Iraq has driven another nail into the coffin that already entombs the freedom of speech, expression and assembly in Singapore.
While six million people the world over were making their views known, the six (yes, 6!) people who had attempted to express their anti-war sentiments were whisked away by the police for questioning. According to newspaper reports, the Tanglin Mall was swarmed with policemen who took away 2 men and a woman who had with them placards in a plastic bag.
The Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Wong Kan Seng, called on Singaporeans not to be emotional and to look at the issues rationally and objectively. Not surprisingly he did not define what rational or objective were.
Perhaps the minister cannot see that some Singaporeans are genuinely concerned for the loss of innocent lives should a war be declared in Iraq. Or perhaps he feels that the war in Iraq would be a good thing. Whatever his stand is he should not dismiss the views of the six who took the trouble to express them peacefully in front of the US embassy at Napier Road as the sentiments of only a few.
This is typical of regimes who dont care about public opinion and who actively seek to suppress it. Without the ability to express what they think, how does Mr. Wong know what the majority of Singaporeans feel about the crisis in Iraq?
It is strange how the government allows street parties like Swing Singapore where thousands of people turned up at Orchard Road. It even organized it for them. Chances of chaos and pandemonium breaking out (if any) would surely be greater than what the six protesters could ever create. The message from the government is: you can do anything you like shop, dance, go to the movies. Just dont try to express yourself politically. And we wonder why our young are so apathetic and uninterested in societys future.
In 1988, the government sanctioned a protest by the NTUC against the US because it accused the Americans of supporting former solicitor-general Mr Francis Seow. Four thousand NTUC members took part in the staged demonstration. Four thousand compared to six. How stupid does Mr. Wong think Singaporeans are?
Where the PAP stands to gain, it allows mass gatherings. But when it perceives its authority is challenged, it cites security reasons to clamp down any form of public assembly.
The Home Affairs Ministry has confused its role in the prevention of violence and its role in hindering the freedom of expression. The job of the police is to ensure that public protests remain peaceful not to prevent citizens from staging protests. The police force has, once again, forgotten that it exists to serve the public of Singapore and not to help the PAP further its own interest.
Whatever ones views of the developing situation in Iraq, one must be allowed to express them freely and publicly without harassment from the government. Ironically, fear of the government is something Singaporeans can empathize with Iraqis.