Singapore defends decision to gag EU legislators

14 Apr 07

Seven European Parliamentarians were banned from speaking at a democracy forum in Singapore.Singapore has defended banning some members of the European Parliament from speaking at a democracy forum, a move the foreign legislators said proved the country was an “authoritarian” state.

In a statement issued late Friday, Singapore’s foreign ministry said envoys representing the European Union members had met with a foreign ministry official to ask that the decision be reconsidered.

“We informed them that as a matter of principle, Singapore political issues have to be decided by Singaporeans and not foreigners who had no responsibility for Singapore,” the statement said.

It said however that the legislators were “free to express their views in the European Parliament or post them on the Internet. But they should not come to Singapore to participate in a domestic political event.”

Seven members of the European Parliament (MEPs), along with a member of the Cambodian national assembly and a Filipino lawmaker, were to have spoken Friday night at a forum organised by the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).

But their applications for professional visit passes – which would have allowed them to speak at the forum – were rejected by the Singapore government on the grounds that the speeches would not be in the public interest.

The European Union said the visit of the MEPs, who arrived Thursday night, was to foster greater cooperation between parliamentarians and democratic parties in Asia and Europe.

The SDP is led by politician Chee Soon Juan, who had suffered imprisonment and bankruptcy in his long battle against the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).

The European and Asian legislators belong to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and the Council of Asian Liberal and Democrats (CALD), respectively.

At a news conference late Friday, the MEPs denounced Singapore’s decision.

“I fear that, in this sense at least, it puts Singapore in a league with North Korea, Myanmar and the People’s Republic of China,” said Graham Watson, a United Kingdom member of the European Parliament.

“Now that is not where I believe Singapore is, or where I believe Singapore should be.”

Watson, who leads the ALDE, said they were conducting a parliamentary mission to Singapore and had come from Indonesia where they spoke at a forum without any interference.

“What has happened today proves that Singapore is an authoritarian state,” said Ignasi Guardans, a Spanish MEP.

Singapore has rarely backed down from international criticisms about the country’s tough laws against dissent and other political activity, saying they are necessary to ensure stability which has helped the country achieve economic success.

Thousands of foreign firms have made Singapore, which is Southeast Asia’s most advanced economy and one of the most politically stable countries in the region, as the base of their operations.

Singapore’s leaders maintain that Western-style liberal democracy is not suitable for the tiny, multi-racial nation.