20 Jun 06
Singapore’s most vocal opposition politician and two supporters have been charged with speaking in public without the required permit in the run-up to the country’s May 6 poll, their lawyer said on Tuesday.
Lawyer M. Ravi, who represents Chee Soon Juan, the leader of the Singapore Democratic Party, Yap Keng Ho, and Gandhi Ambalam, told Reuters the men were charged with violating a public entertainment and meetings act by speaking in public without a permit on several occasions ahead of the poll.
“The law was from the colonial regime. In 1965, these laws ought to have been revoked. These are the laws that (Singapore founding prime minister) Lee Kuan Yew challenged in the 1950s. This law should be read with the spirit of the constitution,” Ravi said.
A pre-trial conference had been set for June 29, he added.
Public speaking is prohibited in Singapore unless speakers have been licensed by the government. The People’s Action Party, which has ruled Singapore since independence in 1965 — and which was re-elected on May 6 — has been criticised by human rights groups for its curbs on freedom of expression.
The government says that firm regulation of public debate and the media is necessary to maintain law and order.
Singapore’s High Court ruled earlier this month that the SDP had defamed Lee and his father, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, in its January newsletter which criticised the government for its handling of a pay-and-perks scandal at the country’s biggest charity.
The 26-year-old party, the most vocal of three opposition parties in the city-state, could face closure if it is unable to pay damages.
The SDP did not win any seats in the election, but won 23 percent of the votes in the wards that it contested. The PAP won 82 of the 84 seats in parliament, keeping the same number of seats as before.
On Monday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was questioned about Singapore’s treatment of opposition politicians during a visit to New Zealand.
Lee told reporters that Chee had flouted Singapore’s rules on public expression, and that his aim was “not to win elections in Singapore, but to impress foreign supporters”.
“He’s deliberately going against the rules because he says ‘I’m like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. I want to be a martyr’,” the Straits Times quoted Lee as saying.