A prisoner in his own country

Huang Chih Mei
07 Sep 07

Dr Chee with his 3 children at the youngest boy, Shaw Hur's 3-year-old birthday in July 2007.Last week, our children were feeling excited about the coming school holidays and they were talking about what they wanted to do as a family. My husband told them, “Well, I am going to prison next week.”

My eldest daughter looked at me and asked, “Is Papa joking or serious?”

I said, “This government doesn’t seem to like your Papa very much, does it?”

Soon Juan’s travel ban resulted from his bankruptcy has effectively made him a prisoner in his own country since 1 April 2006.

I am partly pleased with the fact that he doesn’t need to be constantly traveling and away from the family. At the same time, however, I understand his frustration at not being able to attend meetings overseas, to be there to network with fellow democrats, to make passionate presentations, and to impress upon the international community of the political situation in Singapore.

Most of the time, the world is rather uninformed of Singapore’s authoritarian government and its sophisticated yet repressive controls, despite Singapore being a presumably modern, progressive, rich city-state.

Even when they know, many prevailing commercial interests tend to out-weigh the prospects of antagonizing the Singapore government that is very much into business itself. In addition, there are always many well-paid mercenaries to carry out the PAP government’s public relations work among various international circles.

Apparently, for most people and organisations around the globe, the cause of those living in third-world countries with their familiar TV images of poverty and unrest seem a less threatening one to defend.

It is a lonely job at home and overseas for any Singaporean democracy advocate.

Despite the authority’s rejections for all of Soon Juan’s travel applications, there is little we can do about it. Neither do we know how long they will hold him under city arrest.

Personally, I don’t really need to get out of Singapore, except to go back to Taiwan to visit my parents. Nevertheless, I can still feel the effects of being confined to a small place, a city without countryside, nor the change of four seasons.

There are people who ask me why I have not become a Singapore citizen after having lived here for more than 16 years. I thought the answer should be quite obvious – it would be a terrifying thought that your own government which is supposed to protect you is instead, your enemy. But, I told them that this place is my home, and I am prepared to grow old in Singapore with my husband and children.

One evening, when our three children were brushing their teeth before going to bed. Soon Juan looked at them and commented, “They are the cushion of our tough life in this political struggle.”

True, when my mother asked me, “Are you happy?” I told her that I am not unhappy at all.

Nowadays, three weeks for Soon Juan to be away from home is considered a long time, especially for our children who always enjoy his being around. But, I told them that this unpleasant inconvenience is not going to be forever.

Meanwhile, we will wait patiently for his release from prison. We are not going anywhere else.

Dr Huang Chih Mei, the wife of Dr Chee Soon Juan, is from Taiwan. She has been living in Singapore since 1991.