Singapore democracy campaigner enters third day of standoff

Agence France-Presse
18 Sep 06

A Singapore opposition politician has entered the third day of a standoff with police after being prevented from marching to the venue of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank meetings in Singapore.

“I think we have demonstrated that peaceful assembly … can be of benefit to Singapore,” Chee Soon Juan told journalists. “We are happy to continue what we are doing and educate Singaporeans on their rights.”

The 44-year-old secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party has been surrounded by a police cordon since Saturday to prevent him from leaving a park designated by the government as a free-speech area.

Accompanied by three supporters including his sister, Chee vowed to keep protesting until Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addresses delegates to the IMF and World Bank meetings on Tuesday.

Any protest of more than four people is deemed an illegal assembly in Singapore, a prosperous Asian financial hub that maintains strict controls on freedom of expression.

Chee, a US-educated neuro-psychologist who has long been testing the limits of political activity in Singapore, was forced to split up his group of 10 early Monday to comply with the regulation.

Police, invoking the threat of “terrorism”, are strictly enforcing the city-state’s longstanding ban on outdoor protests and initially blacklisted 27 foreign activists accredited for the conference.

After intense pressure from the two institutions and a public rebuke from World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz about its “authoritarian” ways, Singapore agreed to admit 22 of the activists.

The gesture failed to appease international activists who attended a weekend gathering on the nearby Indonesian island of Batam to press for reforms in the global economy and attack Singapore’s political restrictions.

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