AI update on Singapore

Margaret John, Amnesty International

Opposition critics

Former prisoner of conscience Dr Chee Soon Juan visited Canada 15 – 20 February as part of his efforts to raise international awareness and secure action on Singapore. He met a range of Canadians in Ottawa and Toronto, including Canadian government officials, Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific) David Kilgour M.P., P.C., Senator A. Raynell Andreychuk, officials of the Canadian Labour Congress, Amnesty International members, writers, academics and human rights campaigners.

Dr Chee spoke on a number of topics, including human rights, democracy, the electoral process, labour concerns, international trade, and organizations such as the Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia (which he chairs).

Gandhi Ambalam’s appeal of a fine of S$2,000 has been dismissed by Chief Justice Yong Pung How. He had been fined for violating the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act (PEMA) 1 May, 2002, by holding a public demonstration outside the Presidential palace. He is therefore barred from standing for office for five years. A Singapore Democratic Party statement reported that the Chief Justice said he dismissed the appeal because he “did not have a good breakfast” that morning and that he would not vote for Gandhi Ambalam anyway.

Death Penalty

Audrey Ong was sentenced in early February to 12 years’ imprisonment for helping to dispose of the bodies of two people allegedly murdered by her British employer, Michael McCrae. She had been extradited from Australia, where Michael McCrae is fighting extradition to Singapore (AFP 8/2).

Two New Books

– Francis Seow will publish his third book on Singapore, Beyond Suspicion: The Singapore Courts on Trial , in the Yale University Southeast Asia Studies Monograph Series. This detailed analysis deals with developments and issues such as the 1996/97 general election, suits against Tang Liang Hong and J. B. Jeyaretnam, and the Hotel Properties Limited matter.

Governance in Singapore by Ross Worthington.

Other news

– Marking International Women’s Day on March 8, the Think Centre called for an end to all forms of violence and discrimination against women, in particular abuse of foreign maids in Singapore, about which there have been a number of reports. Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, referring to the 150,000 foreign maids in Singapore, called on their employers to respect them. In July 2002, a man was sentenced to 18 years’ jail and 12 lashes of the cane for killing his Indonesian maid after abusing her for nine months. She had been scalded, burned with cigarettes, whipped with a plastic cane, punched in the face and starved (Bernama 8/3). Mr Lee also promised that the government will work harder to ensure that the next Parliament will have more women, adding that it will be harder to recruit them, because of the demands of being an MP, plus their professional careers and duties as wives and mothers. Advocacy group Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) queried, “Women should be in every aspect of life – why are they left out of high places in politics?”

– Melvin Tan, an official of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), has resigned in protest at the expulsion of branch chairman Muhammad Ali Aman from the Workers of Electronic and Electrical Industries Union, which is affiliated with the NTUC. Muhammad Ali Aman had refused to resign from the Singapore Democratic alliance or give up opposition politics. The Think Centre commented that the NTUC shared a “symbiotic relationship” with the People’s Action Party and that virtually all trade unions are affiliated to the NTUC (TC 12/2).

– Anti-war protest: Two Singaporean Muslim women raised placards opposing war in Iraq in a brief protest outside the US embassy. They were then asked by police to follow them to a police station (AFP 15/2). According to the Think Centre (16/2), police advised six people who had gathered at the US embassy for an anti-war rally not to proceed as they had not obtained a police permit for the event. The Singapore Democratic Party commented, “Regardless of one’s views on the situation in Iraq, one must be allowed to express them in a peaceful manner.”

– UN cites Singapore (and the US, Canada, France, Germany and South Korea) as having undermined the rule of law after the September 11 attacks on the US, on the grounds that anti-terrorism moves discriminate against Muslims and Arabs. AI understands the report is submitted by Doudou Diene, of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (AP 18/2).