Amnesty International report on Singapore

“The Amnesty International Report 2003 documents human rights abuses in 151 countries and territories during 2002. It is a contribution to the work of human rights defenders struggling to achieve a safer world, a world where human rights take priority over political, military or economic interests.” – Amnesty International Report 2003


The government continued its crack-down on individuals alleged to be linked to “terrorist” organizations, detaining 34 men without charge or trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA). Freedom of expression continued to be curbed by restrictive legislation and by the effects of civil defamation suits against political opponents. Opposition activists also faced fines or imprisonment for speaking in public. Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to be imprisoned for their conscientious objection to military service. Death sentences continued to be imposed but it was not known how many executions were carried out. Criminal offenders were sentenced to caning.


The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), in power since 1959, continued to dominate the political scene, occupying 82 out of 84 seats in parliament.

Detention without trial

In September the authorities announced the arrest the previous month of 21 men under the ISA. The authorities claimed they were members of Jemaah Islamiah, a group allegedly planning to use violent means to set up a pan-Islamic state in southeast Asia. The authorities claimed the men were plotting to bomb several targets in Singapore, including water pipelines and the headquarters of the Ministry of Defence. Some members of the group were also said to have undergone military training at al-Qa’ida camps in Afghanistan. Three of the detainees were released under orders restricting their freedom of movement, while 18 were ordered to be detained for two years without charge or trial. During the first few weeks of their detention they were denied access to lawyers and relatives, raising fears that they may have been tortured or ill-treated. The ISA violates the right to a fair and public trial and the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.

Thirteen other men with alleged links to Jemaah Islamiah, who had been arrested in December 2001, were ordered in January to be detained for two years under the ISA. Two others were released conditionally the same month.

Curbs on freedom of expression and assembly

Government controls imposed on the press and civil society organizations curbed freedom of expression and were an obstacle to the independent monitoring of human rights. A range of restrictive legislation remained in place, undermining the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. All assemblies of five or more people require a police permit. Such permits are rarely granted to those wishing to express dissenting political opinions.

The threat of potentially ruinous civil defamation suits against opponents of the PAP continued to inhibit political life and engendered a climate of self-censorship. While the government stated that PAP leaders had a legitimate right to defend their reputation, there were continuing concerns that their real motive was to silence selected opposition figures and remove them from public life.

Chee Soon Juan, leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, continued to face a defamation suit lodged against him by the Prime Minister and Senior Minister in 2001. In August a court ruled that he was liable to pay damages, but postponed setting the amount. Chee Soon Juan lodged an appeal against the decision. In July he was barred from contesting the next general election after being fined for speaking in public without a permit. In October Chee Soon Juan and opposition party colleague Ghandi Ambalam were fined for various offences relating to holding a rally without a permit. Chee Soon Juan refused to pay the fine and was imprisoned for five weeks. His colleague spent one night in prison but was released after paying the fine.

In April the Senior Minister and other leading PAP members dropped further defamation suits against former opposition parliamentarian J.B. Jeyaretnam after he issued an apology. He had already been declared bankrupt and lost his parliamentary seat in 2001 as a result of a defamation suit.

Conscientious objectors

At least 27 conscientious objectors to military service were imprisoned during 2002. All were members of the banned Jehovah’s Witnesses religious group. Those who refuse to perform military service receive an initial 15-month sentence, followed by a further two years for a second refusal. Subsequent refusals to perform military duties can attract further prison terms. There was no alternative civilian service for conscientious objectors to military service.

Death penalty

The death penalty was mandatory for drug trafficking, murder, treason and certain firearms offences.

Two Thai nationals were reported to have been sentenced to death for murder and at least seven people, including two Pakistani nationals, were executed for drug trafficking or murder. However, the true figure was believed to be higher. Information about death sentences and executions continued to be difficult to obtain as the government does not publish statistics. During 2002 it was learned that 22 people had been executed in 2001 for drug trafficking. This brought the total number of executions known to have been carried out since 1991 to 369. Singapore is believed to have one of the highest execution rates in the world, relative to its population of just over four million.

Cruel judicial punishment

Caning, which constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment, remained mandatory for some 30 crimes, including attempted murder, rape, armed robbery, drugs trafficking, illegal immigration offences and vandalism. Under the law, caning may be imposed on child offenders, in breach of the UN Children’s Convention. It was not known how many sentences were carried out.

In July a Malaysian national was sentenced to five years in prison and 24 strokes of the cane for smuggling undocumented migrants into the country.

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