Protest ANU’s honorary doctorate for Lee Kwan Yew

Young Labour Left, ACT
23 Mar 07

Where: The Great Hall, University House

When: 10:30am, Wednesday March 28

The ANU’s decision to confer a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, on Lee Kwan Yew has outraged academics and human rights campaigners. Rightly so! It shouldn’t just be academics that are outraged though.

Lee Kwan Yew, former Prime Minister of Singapore governed with an iron fist for 31 years. His regime, democratic in name only, was autocratic and repressive. In his current role as Minister Mentor Mr Lee still wields considerable influence over the authoritarian and paternalistic government. Where some tyrants use violence to keep their populations in check, Lee Kwan Yew used the law. In his hands it became a weapon wielded with accuracy and efficiency to crush dissent and tighten the ruling People’s Action Party’s grip on power.

That the ANU would honour this arrogant autocrat with a Doctorate of Law of all things is absolutely atrocious. That news of this would break just a day after Vice Chancellor Ian Chubb was encouraging As Chee Soon Yuan wrote in his letter, it is a decision that “boggles the mind and rankles the soul.” Join us at University House this Wednesday at 10:30am as we stand up for democracy and human rights in Singapore.

Chee Soon Yuan, Secretary General of the Opposition Singapore Democratic Party, himself a target of Mr Lee’s repressive regime has written to Vice Chancellor Ian Chubb to express his “deep concern” and “utmost dissapointment,” asking “what values are you imparting to the minds of those who walk through the gates of ANU? What image are you conferring on the ANU?” He also asks for your support. Register your own protest by emailing Ian Chubb at and join us in a Snap Action Protest this Wednesday.

Links, the full text of the ANU’s invitation to academics and more information can be found after the break.

Mr Lee created in Singapore an Orwellian society in which decades of repression have resulted in a culture of self-censorship and timidity. The opposition has been crushed by the ruling People’s Action Party. Civil society has been destroyed. This has been achieved through a draconian system of laws, a compliant judiciary and the constant threat of defamation suits. Academic freedom is limited. “Human Rights” is a dirty word and civil and political rights all but non-existent. Basic freedoms of speech, association and assembly are severely curtailed. There are no independent unions.

Political opponents, including Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, Tang Liang Hong and Chee Soon Juan have been bankrupted by defamation suits. Others are harrassed by police and imprisoned without charge. Chia Thye Poh, an opposition Parliamentarian, was imprisoned for 23 years without trial and placed under house arrest for a further 9, becoming the world’s second longest serving political prisoner, after Nelson Mandela (himself a recipient of an Honorary Doctorate from the ANU.)

The media is tightly controlled. Foreign publications considered slanderous, such as The Economist, Newsweek, Time, the Financial Times, the Far Eastern Economic Review and the International Herald Tribune have their circulations restricted and are often subjected to defamation suits. Film, Television and the Creative arts are monitored and censored by the Media Development Authority. Websites considered threatening are routinely blocked and bloggers have faced fines, prison sentences and of course the ubiquitous defamation suits.

The invitation:

The Chancellor, Dr Allan Hawke, would like to invite the academic staff of the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific to a special ceremony at which he will be conferring the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, on Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Minister Mentor and former Prime Minister of Singapore. The ceremony will take place at 11am on Wednesday, 28 March, in the Great Hall of University House and will be followed by a reception in the central courtyard. Guests are asked to be seated in the Hall by 10.45am. The ceremony is a special occasion to honour Mr Lee’s achievements and further the University’s relationship with Singapore. The Chancellor hopes you will join him for this event. If you have your own academic regalia, you are welcome to join the Chancellor’s Academic Procession – please indicate this in your reply and we will advise arrangements for gowning and processing.

A number of Academics have already spoken out, including Hilary Charlesworth (quoted in the Canberra Times article), Michael McKinley (in the ABC’s coverage), and on their personal blogs. Andrew Walker of the RSPAS at New Mandela has also posted a letter from Stephen Dobbs of the University of Western Australia which is well worth a read. Andrew Leigh of the RSSS has also posted.

Background articles:
Censorship in Singapore
Human Rights in Singapore
Internal Security Act
Amnesty International Report, 2006
Reporters Without Borders Report, 2007

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