11 Dec 06
Supporters of a jailed opposition leader staged a protest march Sunday in Singapore’s busy shopping district to press for greater political freedom in the city-state.
The rare demonstration marking international Human Rights Day was staged by followers and relatives of Chee Soon Juan, who is serving a five-week jail term for defying the city-state’s restrictions on free speech.
“We’re going to celebrate what little rights we have, freedom to question and criticise the government,” marcher John Tan, who described himself as a lecturer in psychology, told reporters.
Because any public protest involving five or more persons requires a police permit, the demonstrators held the march in relays of four persons each. Plainclothesmen were seen trailing the protestors across town after they started off from a park in the banking district.
Chee’s wife Huang Chih Mei marched with their three young children along the Orchard Road shopping belt, which was packed with Christmas shoppers.
Some passers-by accepted protest leaflets handed out by the marchers, while others declined.
The demonstrators wore yellow t-shirts saying “Free to Walk” and “Free to Speak.”
Chee Siok Chin, sister of the detained politician, said the protest was “a symbol that one of our colleagues, one of our fellow activists is still in prison … for exercising his rights that are guaranteed under the Singapore constitution.”
The march was scheduled to end at the Queenstown Remand Prison, where Chee Soon Juan, secretary general of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), was jailed for five weeks on November 23 after refusing to pay a fine of 5,000 Singapore dollars (3,200 US).
Two opposition colleagues charged in the same case served shorter prison stints, also for refusing to pay their fines.
The penalties were imposed after they were convicted for speaking in public without a police permit ahead of the May general elections won overwhelmingly by the conservative People’s Action Party (PAP).
US-based rights group Human Rights Watch said Thursday that Chee “is being arbitrarily detained for exercising his right to free expression and should be immediately and unconditionally released.”