Singapore jails opposition leader over bid to leave

05 Sep 07

Singapore has jailed a prominent opposition leader for three weeks after he failed to pay a fine for trying to leave the city-state without permission from the government, as required of him as a bankrupt.

Chee Soon Juan, an outspoken critic of the government and leader of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), was fined S$4,000 ($2,621) after he tried to leave in April last year to attend a democracy conference in Turkey, his sister Chee Siok Chin said.

Under Singapore’s laws, bankrupts who leave the city-state without permission from the government may be fined up to S$10,000 or jailed up to two years.

Chee, who has had multiple run-ins with the Singapore government, was declared bankrupt in February 2006 after he failed to make libel payments of S$500,000 to former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong.

“He did not pay because it was partly a matter of principle,” said Chee Siok Chin, also a senior SDP member. “It’s ridiculous that they even flagged a fine on a bankrupt.”

Chee Soon Juan has been jailed five times since 1999 for speaking in public without a permit, and for questioning the independence of Singapore’s judiciary.

A neuropsychologist by training, Chee was sacked from his job as a lecturer at the National University of Singapore in 1993 after he was accused of improperly using S$226 for postage.

The Hong Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review magazine – owned by Dow Jones – is being sued by Lee and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong after it featured Chee last year criticising the government’s handling of a pay-and-perks scandal at Singapore’s largest charity.

Chee’s party did not win any parliament seats in last year’s May poll, but won 23 percent of the votes in the wards it contested.

Bankrupt Singapore activist jailed
05 Sep 07

A bankrupt pro-democracy activist who has repeatedly spoken out against Singapore’s rulers has begun a three-week jail sentence, his sister said Wednesday.

It is the second time in less than a year that Chee Soon Juan has been jailed.

Chee, secretary general of the Singapore Democratic Party, was locked up after the High Court on Tuesday dismissed his appeal against a conviction for attempting to leave the city-state without permission.

A lower court convicted him in February of trying to leave the country last year without permission of the official in charge of his bankruptcy.

Chee was fined 4,000 dollars (2,627 US) and faced the jail term if he did not pay.

He was declared bankrupt in February last year for failing to pay 500,000 Singapore dollars in libel damages to Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew and former prime minister Goh Chok Tong.

“As a result of the unsuccessful appeal, the Singapore Democrat Party secretary general has begun his prison term at the Queenstown Remand Prison,” said a statement late Tuesday from his party.

Chee’s sister, Chee Siok Chin, told AFP that his wife and three children, aged three, five and eight, were able to meet him at the court before he was taken away.

“That was the main thing, that he got to see his kids and kiss them goodbye,” she said.

In November and December he served three weeks in prison after he refused to pay a fine of 5,000 Singapore dollars in a separate case.

He and two of his supporters were jailed for speaking without a permit during party activities ahead of May general elections won overwhelmingly by the conservative People’s Action Party (PAP), which has ruled since 1959.

Singapore’s leaders maintain that Western-style liberal democracy is not suitable for the tiny, multi-racial nation. They dismiss criticism from human rights groups who have said the government uses libel laws to silence critics. The leaders say they have to protect their reputations.