22 March 2007
Dear Mr Ellis,
It is gratifying to know that the IBA will organise a panel discussion specifically focused on the human rights situation in Singapore and that it will be open to the Singaporean public. I also welcome the news that concrete proposals vis-à-vis the problems surrounding the lack of the rule of law in Singapore will be studied and presented.
In my previous letter, I suggested that victims of repression in Singapore – those who have been detained without trial, sued for defamation, and imprisoned for exercising their political rights – be invited to speak at the panel discussion. Apart from being able to present first-hand accounts of the repression that goes on in Singapore, we would be able to apprise your participants of the clever use of laws by the ruling party to stifle the rule of law and human rights.
For example, the Public Entertainment and Meetings Act ensures that only pro-Government rallies and marches are allowed to be staged. Even protests such as the displaying of placards or wearing of T-shirts that the Government deems political can be punished under this law.
The Newspaper and Printing Presses Act stipulates that Singaporeans cannot own and run newspaper businesses.
The Defamation Act has enabled ruling party leaders to sue and make bankrupt their political opponents. The Act was amended in 1991 so that the plaintiffs could get summary judgments and avoid going to court where they would have to take the stand and be put under public scrutiny.
The Bankruptcy Act is used to prevent opposition leaders from standing for elections and to campaign for their colleagues.
The Political Donations Act was introduced in 2001 to ensure that NGOs that are identified as “political” by the Government are prohibited from receiving financial support from international democracy-assistance foundations.
The Films Act allows the Government to prosecute filmmakers who produce material critical of the ruling party whilst allowing the state-run TV stations a free hand to glamorize leaders of the Government.
The ruling party has put into good use the infamous Internal Security Act to detain without trial its political and parliamentary opponents and to cripple the Opposition.
And if all else fails, the Miscellaneous Offences Act is invoked to ensure that political activities are curbed.
These are just some of the myriad of laws that the Singapore Government uses to cripple democratic activity in Singapore. Very few people are familiar with these laws and, more significantly, how they are employed. It is therefore vitally important that speakers who are knowledgeable about such an issue be invited as part of the panel.
Otherwise the discussion would not serve its intended purpose and, worse, it would allow Singapore’s establishment to hijack the topic. This would also compromise the IBA’s fact-finding mission.
I appreciate the difficulty of the IBA putting up position letters on the front page of its website. At the same time, however, I don’t think there has been so much controversy before surrounding the choice of venue for an IBA Annual Conference. Perhaps it could be reflected on your website the concern the Singaporean and international human rights communities have with Singapore hosting this prestigious IBA event. It would certainly be more reflective of reality than the portrayal of Singapore purely as a destination for the carnal and the mundane. I would like to think that my country has more to offer than that which appeals only to the flesh.
I look forward to cooperating with you to see how we can ensure a meaningful way of dealing with the problems of human rights in Singapore. Thank you.
Chee Soon Juan
Singapore Democratic Party