NGO urges Singapore to allow opposition leader’s visit

Deutsch Press Agency
11 Jan 07

A US-based non-government organization (NGO) called Wednesday on Singapore’s government to allow an opposition party leader to attend a meeting of democracy activists in Taiwan.

The appeal from the nongovernmental international steering committee (ISC) of the Community of Democracies coincided with the third day of bankrupt Chee Soon Juan’s trial for attempting to leave the city-state without official permission from the Insolvency and Public Trustee’s Office.

Chee, the 44-year-old head of the Singapore Democratic Party, is one of 20 members of the committee, a network of activists claiming to support “the freedom of people in all parts of the world.” “We call on the government of Singapore to permit him to travel to attend the January 22-23 meeting of the ISC” to be held in Taipei and the January 23-24 Roundtable on Democracy in Asia, members said in a statement.

It further urged the government “to fully respect and restore Chee’s civil rights including his right to travel abroad without restriction.”

Among the signatories were 14 leaders and representatives of civil society groups in South Africa, the Philippines, Russia, the United States, Chile, Mali, Tunisia, Italy, Romania, Egypt, France and Cameroon. Chee’s lawyer has maintained that the travel restrictions imposed on his client were unconstitutional. Chee was stopped at Changi Airport while trying to board a flight bound for Istanbul, Turkey, where he planned to attend a World Movement for Democracy meeting.

He was declared bankrupt early last year for failing to pay S$500,000 (US$331,000) in damages to Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew for defaming them during the 2001 general election.

Chee, who emerged from a three-week stint in jail last month, faces a fine of S$10,000, jail for up to one year, or both if convicted in the current case.

He had opted to go to jail instead of paying a S$5,000 fine after he was convicted in November for speaking in public without a permit last April in the run-up to the general election. The People’s Action Party, which has dominated Singapore politics since independence in 1965, captured 82 of the 84 parliamentary seats.

It was the fifth time in seven years that Chee went to jail instead of paying a fine.

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have criticized the city-state for strictly limiting speech to muzzle its critics.

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