25 May 07
Head of state: S R Nathan
Head of government: Lee Hsien Loong
Death penalty: retentionist
International Criminal Court: not ratified
Freedom of expression and assembly came under increasingly close controls. Men arrested in previous years were held without charge or trial under the Internal Security Act amid fears that they were at risk of ill-treatment. Death sentences were imposed and at least five people were executed. Criminal offenders were sentenced to caning.
The People’s Action Party (PAP), which has dominated political life and wider society for nearly half a century, was re-elected for a five-year term in May. The party’s stated commitment to building a more open society did not materialize.
Restrictions on free expression and assembly
• Civil defamation suits and criminal charges were used or threatened against government critics, human rights activists, Falun Gong practitioners and foreign news media. Tighter restrictions on several major foreign publications were announced in August, enabling the authorities to take punitive measures more easily.
• Dr Chee Soon Juan, leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, was declared bankrupt in February when he was unable to pay damages of 500,000 Singapore dollars (approximately US$306,000) to two PAP leaders when a 2001 defamation suit ended. As a bankrupt, he was barred from seeking election. He was imprisoned for eight days in March for contempt of court after saying publicly that the judiciary lacked independence. In November he was sentenced to a prison term of five weeks for speaking in public without a permit. On his release he faced further criminal charges for speaking in public without a permit and attempting to leave the country without permission. In August the publisher and the editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review were sued for defamation in connection with a favourable article about him.
• J B Jeyaretnam, former leader of the opposition Workers’ Party, unsuccessfully appealed against the bankruptcy imposed on him in 2001 after a series of politically motivated defamation suits. He remained unable to stand for re-election.
• Writer Lee Kin Mun was suspended by the state-owned newspaper Today following publication of a critical article on Singapore’s living costs.
• Two Falun Gong practitioners were convicted of holding an illegal protest outside the Chinese Embassy and sentenced in November to prison terms of 15 days and 10 days respectively. Nine practitioners were charged with illegally assembling to distribute leaflets. Jaya Gibson, a British journalist and Falun Gong practitioner, was denied entry to Singapore.
• The government restricted both domestic and foreign activism relating to a meeting in Singapore of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in September, provoking worldwide criticism, including from both institutions.
Detention without charge or trial
At least 34 men remained in detention without charge or trial under the Internal Security Act. The authorities claimed the men were involved in militant Islamist groups and posed a security threat to Singapore. Seven detainees were reportedly released after co-operating with the authorities and responding well to “rehabilitation”. In February, Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng was reported as saying that the treatment of such detainees was not a “tea party” but denied they had been tortured.
At least eight conscientious objectors were imprisoned, and 12 others continued to serve their sentences during 2006. All were members of the banned Jehovah’s Witnesses religious group. There were no moves towards offering an alternative to military service.
Death penalty and corporal punishment
At least five people were executed, two in June following conviction for drug trafficking, the others in November after being convicted of murder. Death sentences were handed down to at least five people.
The presence of foreign prisoners on death row raised the international profile of Singapore’s high rate of executions. The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions expressed concern about executions in Singapore and called for an end to death sentences for drug-related offences, arguing that the mandatory death sentence is a violation of international legal standards. In January the Singapore Law Society said it intended to carry out “an open-minded review of the legal issues” related to the death penalty.
People continued to be sentenced to caning throughout the year, including a 16-year-old boy convicted of theft and judged unsuitable for reformative training