Freedom Walk: Free to walk?

On Sunday 10 December 2006, a group of human rights advocates in Singapore walked down the heart of of the city to mark the International Human Rights Day.

The group consisting of about 20 men, women and children were dressed in bright yellow T-shirts that read “Free to Speak”, “Free to Walk” and “Free to Gather”.

Starting from Hong Lim Park, the participants ended the 8km walk outside the Queenstown Prison where one of our own human rights and democracy advocates is still serving his jail sentence for having claimed his rights as a citizen of the country. Dr Chee Soon Juan has been imprisoned no less than five times, all for exercising his right to speak.

The group gave out flyers to passers-by during the walk. Several of the advocates stopped at the Istana to hand a flyer to the President of the Republic.

Along a quiet stretch at Tanglin Road the police attempted to violate our right to walk peacefully and in small groups. Mr Gandhi Ambalam, one of the two men who had been imprisoned with Dr Chee, was accosted by the police. He was asked to disperse. The reason given to him was that an illegal assembly was taking place. Mr Gandhi explained that he was walking with only one other and the rest of the participants were walking in small and scattered groups. After assessing the situation, the police allowed Mr Gandhi to walk on.

The entire group arrived at the Queenstown Prison at about 7.15 pm.

This was the first time many in the group were taking part in an event to raise awareness for human rights in Singapore. One participant said that he had not “felt so alive in a long time.” Another was so inspired that he remarked that he wished he had brought the Singapore flag to wave it as the group walked along.

The activists were happy that we were able to complete what we had set out to achieve, which was to mark Human Rights Day and to stand in solidarity with our friends whose rights to free speech were denied.

We would like to thank those who joined us along the way and finished the walk with us. Their presence and company was encouraging, if not inspiring.

The group will continue to raise human rights awareness among Singaporeans so that we can claim and exercise our rights.