Asian Democrats: Singapore must respect rights of expression

World Forum for Democratization in Asia
23 Sep 06

The World Forum for Democratization in Asia (WFDA) is very concerned by the recent abuses of the fundamental rights of expression and assembly carried out by the Government of Singapore before and during the Annual Meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the city-state.

The policies which are being discussed by the World Bank and IMF in Singapore affect the lives of millions throughout the developing world, not least here in Asia. For this reason, the institutions themselves have gradually recognized the need to engage with civil society, and have welcomed civil society participation in their Annual Meetings.

We condemn Singapore’s refusal to grant entry to 27 civil society representatives who were properly accredited by the IMF and World Bank to attend the Annual Meetings, in apparent violation of an agreement made in 2003; the belated rescinding of the ban on 22 of the 27 only partially redresses the abuse. We are equally disturbed by the treatment meted out to a number of additional activists, mostly from Asia, who were deported summarily upon arrival at Singapore’s airport. This treatment reportedly included use of holding cells, lack of explanation of the reasons for deportation, lack of ability to communicate with consular officials, etc.

At the same time, we condemn the actions against those Singaporean civil society representatives who have attempted to show solidarity with their international colleagues on this important international occasion. In particular, the crackdown on the peaceful demonstration led by Dr. Chee Soon Juan was highly disproportionate. We note as well the verdict handed down last week in the latest of a series of politically motivated lawsuits against Dr. Chee and other members of the Singapore Democratic Party.

Taken together, these incidents are further clear evidence that the Government of Singapore is failing to implement either international human rights law or its own Constitution.

In contrast, we express our appreciation to the Indonesian authorities for allowing civil society organizations to organize a related forum in Batam, as well as to World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz and other officials of the Bank and Fund who spoke up against the actions of Singapore.

We call on the Government of Singapore to uphold their legal obligations, and cease blocking legitimate expressions of freedoms of speech, assembly, and association, for all Singaporean citizens as well as those participating in international conferences in the country. As the Annual Meetings of the World Bank and IMF come to their conclusion, we call on all members of the international community to engage Singapore directly and frankly to ensure that human rights issues are genuinely addressed. The world should no longer turn a blind eye to the suffocation of human rights and democracy in Singapore.

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