Dr Chee Soon Juan released from prison

International Herald Tribune
16 Dec 06

Singaporean authorities on Saturday released an outspoken opposition party leader whose imprisonment drew criticism by some human rights groups that accused the city-state of using restrictive laws to stifle opponents.

Chee Soon Juan, secretary general of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, was jailed for five weeks on Nov. 23 after he refused to pay a 5,000 Singapore dollar (US$3,200; a2,500) fine for speaking publicly without a permit. Singapore law requires a permit for any outdoor public event, including speeches.

Chee, who is bankrupt, was released Saturday from Queenstown Remand Prison after three weeks’ jail time for good behavior.

“I’m feeling a little tired, a little groggy,” Chee said upon passing through the prison gate, where he was greeted by about a dozen supporters and relatives.

Chee was bankrupted in February and barred from standing in elections after failing to pay former Prime Ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong S$500,000 (US$303,000; a232,000) in libel damages for comments he made during the 2001 elections.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International issued separate statements in recent days urging the Singapore government to release the opposition leader. Both groups said the city-state strictly limited speech to muzzle its critics.

Chee said he planned to start preparing for a trial on Thursday on separate charges of attempting to leave the country without official authorization on April 1.

Because he is bankrupt, Chee has to apply for permission from the government’s Insolvency and Public Trustee’s Office before he can travel overseas. If found guilty, he faces a fine of up to 10,000 Singapore dollars (US$6,300; a5,000) and two years in jail.

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