AI REPORT 2006
Freedom of expression and assembly continued to be curbed. Thirty-six men were held without charge or trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA). Death sentences were imposed and eight people were executed. Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to be imprisoned for conscientious objection to military service. Criminal offenders were sentenced to caning.
The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), in power since 1959, maintained a dominating hold over political life and wider society. Official statements encouraging a more participatory, inclusive society were countered in practice by an array of laws restricting rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
Restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly
The threat of potentially ruinous civil defamation suits against opponents of the PAP continued to inhibit political life.
In March, the leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, Chee Soon Juan, was unable to pay damages of 500,000 Singapore dollars (approximately US$306,000) awarded against him in defamation suits lodged in 2001 by two PAP leaders. He was at risk of being declared bankrupt and therefore unable to stand for election.
In September, the High Court rejected a second application to be discharged from bankruptcy lodged by former leader of the opposition Workers’ Party, J. B. Jeyaretnam. Declared bankrupt after a series defamation suits by PAP leaders and others, he was expelled from Parliament in 2001 and remained unable to stand for election.
The threat of prosecution, and uncertainty over the boundaries of permissible public debate, contributed to a climate of self-censorship.
In March, government censors required film maker Martyn See to remove a documentary on Chee Soon Juan from Singapore’s international film festival. He was then subjected to a criminal investigation and required to surrender equipment and material. No charges had been filed by the end of the year.
In May, the authorities threatened to sue a Singaporean student in the USA who criticized the government’s scholarship system on his personal Internet blog.
Restrictions on freedom of assembly also inhibited peaceful civil society activity. In August, riot police ordered the dispersal of a group of four people holding a silent protest outside a government building to urge greater official accountability. A High Court judge subsequently dismissed their petition that the dispersal violated their constitutional right to peaceful protest.
In September police questioned local activists who had set up placards protesting at delays in opening a train station. No charges were filed.
In March, the authorities banned a weekend concert by a local AIDS support group, stating that the event, organized by a Christian gay organization, was against the public interest.
At least 36 men remained in detention without charge or trial under the ISA. Seventeen other former ISA detainees were reportedly under orders restricting their freedom of movement and association. The authorities claimed the men were involved with Islamist groups, including Jemaah Islamiah, held responsible for planning or carrying out bomb attacks in the region.
Eight people were executed. Singapore was believed to have the highest rate of executions per capita in the world.
The hanging in May of Shanmugam s/o Murugesu, sentenced to death in 2004 for possession of just over 1kg of cannabis, sparked unprecedented public discussion. From April to August, local activists organized a public forum, petitions, vigils and other events to campaign against the death penalty. The authorities refused to allow an AI representative to address the public forum in May, while in August police banned the use of Shanmugam’s face on posters on the grounds that it would “glorify” an executed convict.
In December Australian Van Tuong Nguyen, convicted in 2004 of smuggling heroin, was executed.
At least two conscientious objectors to military service were imprisoned in 2005, and 12 others continued to serve prison sentences. All were members of the banned Jehovah’s Witnesses religious group. There was no alternative to military service in practice for conscientious objectors in Singapore.
AI country visits
In May an AI representative met local activists and attended a public forum against the death penalty, but was denied permission to speak..