Amnesty International Canada
12 May 07
J B Jeyaretnam, long regarded as Singapore’s veteran opposition leader and human rights campaigner, is finally freed from bankruptcy. He is therefore eligible to resume his profession as a lawyer, travel abroad without permission, and contest the next election in Singapore, due in 2011.
After making payments of S$233,255 (roughly equivalent to the Canadian dollar) to the Official Assignee, he was given a discharge from bankruptcy.
He had been declared bankrupt in 2001 after failing to pay more than S$600,000 in damages to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong, and others. He had been found guilty of defamation at a 1997 election rally when he referred publicly to the filing by Workers’ Party candidate Tang Liang Hong of a police report critical of ruling party leaders. He estimates he has paid out close to S$2 million in damages and court costs over the years.
Bankrupts in Singapore are barred from seeking parliamentary seats. J B Jeyaretnam also lost his right to practise as a lawyer. He will now apply for the restoration of his licence to practise law.
J B Jeyaretnam, former judge and member of parliament, now in his eighties, has long been known internationally as a voice for freedom, justice and fundamental human rights in Singapore. As a result, he has faced numerous defamation and other charges, been imprisoned, made bankrupt, and excluded from Parliament and his profession.
Amnesty International (AI) has called on the Singapore government to stop using restrictive laws and defamation suits to muzzle critics and opposition party members such as J B Jeyaretnam.
AI and numerous organizations have over the years sent representatives to Singapore as trial observers and have issued critical reports and statements. Amongst that group are Canadian judge Paul Bentley and Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada. AI remains concerned about the continuing use of restrictive laws and civil defamation suits to penalise and silence peaceful critics of the government.
Laws allowing the authorities to impose restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly which violate international standards, combined with a pattern of politically motivated defamation suits, have served to maintain a climate of political intimidation and self-censorship in Singapore. This climate continues to stifle freedom of expression, deters the expression of views alternative to those of the ruling People’s Action Party, and dissuades many Singaporeans from exercising their right to take part in public affairs. Such restrictions belie the government’s repeated claims that it is building an “open society”