Singapore opposition politician blocked from protesting

Agence France-Presse
16 Sep 06

Police have blocked a Singaporean opposition politician ofrom holding a march through the city to protest restrictions on freedom of speech ahead of the IMF-World Bank meetings.

Democratic Party secretary general Chee Soon Juan gave a speech at Speakers’ Corner, a government-designated area for free speech, but plain-clothes police blocked him from taking his protest to the streets, an AFP journalist reported.

“Dr Chee, I have to advise you again that carrying out a procession without a permit is an offense,” a police officer told the politician.

“We will try again to walk,” Chee replied, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “Democracy Now”.

“As citizens we have rights. Only slaves don’t have rights. Only slaves are afraid of the government,” Chee cried out.

“Today we will mark the birthday. It is the birthday of democracy.”

Singapore has refused to relax its tough rules on public protests during the IMF-World Bank meetings. It also irked the powerful financial institutions with its reluctance to admit 27 activists accredited for the events.

The city-state on Friday backed down partially, saying 22 of the blacklisted activists would now be allowed entry.

But the non-governmental organisations they represent shunned the offer and said Saturday that they would continue to boycott the IMF-World Bank meetings.

Chee was found by the Supreme Court on Tuesday to have defamed the country’s prime minister and his father Lee Kuan Yew.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father, the elder Lee and Singapore’s first prime minister, sued Chee for implying that the prime minister was perpetuating a corrupt political system.

Since independence in 1965, Singapore has grown from a Third World country to an Asian economic powerhouse.

But critics say this came at a price, in the form of restrictions on freedom of speech and political activity.

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