Amnesty International update on Chee Soon Juan

Amnesty International Canada
05 Sep 07

Prominent human rights defender and opposition leader Dr Chee Soon Juan has
again been imprisoned. The imprisonment is the result of his attempt to
leave the country in April 2006 to attend a World Movement for Democracy
conference in Turkey. The High Court dismissed his appeal 3 September
against his conviction of attempting to leave Singapore as an undiuscharged
bankrupt. Individuals who have been bankrupted are not allowed to travel

abroad without official permission. His application was rejected two weeks

after he was due to travel. He was fined S$4000 or three weeks in prison in
default of payment. He has made some 12 applications to travel abroad to
attend human rights and democracy meetings, all of which have been rejected.
He was last imprisoned for over two weeks in late 2006.

Dr Chee had been made bankrupt by the courts when he failed to pay former
prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong S$500,000 in a lawsuit they
had taken out against him in 2001.

Despite the loss of his university position, several terms of imprisonment,
bankruptcy and a ban on his contesting parliamentary election, Dr Chee
continues to speak out about human rights and democracy. In his most recent
article (28 August,, written knowing he faced
imprisonment, he called on Singaporeans to take action despite their fears,
and quoted Nelson Mandela: Courage is not the absence of fear but the
triumph over it. In the article, he points to punitive action taken against
dissidents, including peaceful anti-Iraq war protesters, Falun Gong
practitioners critical of the Chinese government, anti-death penalty
activists, Human Rights Day marchers, and the gay and lesbian community. In
recent months, he has tried to ensure that human rights concerns in
Singapore will be addressed in the October international conference of the
International Bar Association. He is planning an alternative conference with
high-level speakers prior to the IBA meeting.

Amnesty International has repeatedly expressed concern about civil
defamation suits, bankruptcies and criminal charges used or threatened
against government critics, human rights activists and foreign news media.
Dr Chee’s sister, Chee Siok Chin, who is a prominent member of the small
opposition Singapore Democratic Party, was also recently made bankrupt by a
court – thus barring her from contesting a parliamentary seat (as she did
in the last election) or travelling abroad (where she has spoken at
high-level conferences). The Far Eastern Economic Review is the latest
foreign journal to be sued for defamation following its 2006 interview
article on Dr Chee. Laws permitting such restrictions 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. The
Singapore government has stated that it is building an “open society”.


Please write to Singapore’s President

* Express your concern that government critics and human rights
defenders such as Dr Chee Soon Juan and his sister Chee Siok Chin continue
to be penalised for the non-violent expression of their opinions;

* Ask the President to emphasize that progress depends not only on
economic advancement but also on respect for fundamental international human
rights standards, including the right to express one’s opinions;

* State that you welcome the government’s promise to build an “open
society” and that you look forward to the fulfillment of that promise. Ask
what steps are being taken to ensure respect for the basic right to freedom
of expression.


His Excellency President S R Nathan
Office of the President
Istana, Orchard Road
Singapore 0922
Fax: +65 6735 3135
Salutation: Your Excellency
Please send copies to :

His Excellency Vanu Gopala Menon
Permanent Representative of Singapore to the United Nations and High
Commissioner to Canada
231 East 51st Street
New York, NY 10022, USA
Fax: 1 (212) 826-2964
Salutation: Your Excellency

Please forward any responses to: Margaret John, Coordinator for Singapore
and Malaysia (


AI has longstanding concerns about Singapore:

Freedom of expression is tightly controlled by the People’s Action Party,
which has been in power over 40 years with almost no opposition MPs.
Political critics face ruinous defamation suits filed by leading government
figures and risk bankruptcy and imprisonment. AI describes this situation as
a “climate of fear”.

AI believes that Singapore has the highest per capita rate of executions of
any country worldwide. Death sentences have been handed down after unfair
trials. For example, in drug trafficking cases, there is a presumption of
guilt and a mandatory death sentence.

International concern about human rights violations in Singapore is
mounting. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which met in
Singapore in 2006, criticised the authorities’ exclusion of some of their
invited NGO representatives as well as the restrictions on peaceful
protests. In recent weeks, a visiting delegation of parliamentarians from
Europe and Asia protested when they were denied permission to speak at a
public forum. In the past few weeks, the international media have reported
criticism of large salary increases for the government while t he gap
between rich and poor is increasing. The Prime Minister’s salary at over S$3
million (equivalent to the Canadian dollar) will be five times that of US
President Bush.

Dr. Chee is recognised internationally as a courageous human rights
defender. He received the prestigious Defender of Democracy Award by
Parliamentarians for Global Action in 2003 (Nelson Mandela is also a past
recipient). He states that imprisonment does not deter him and that he will
continue – referring to Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi – his
non-violent efforts to bring human rights and democracy to Singapore,
regardless of the consequences to himself. It was a message he repeated when
he visited Canada in 2003.