IFEX urges S’pore to release human rights defender Chee Soon Juan

International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)
12 Sep 07

Human rights defender and pro-democracy activist Chee Soon Juan has been sentenced to jail for three weeks in Singapore for refusing to pay a fine slapped on him for trying to leave the country unauthorised and while bankrupt. Amnesty International Canada has organised an appeal for his release.

Chee, leader of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), was fined 4,000 Singaporean Dollars (US$2,600) or three weeks in prison in default of payment after he tried to attend a democracy conference in Turkey in April 2006. Last week, the High Court dismissed his appeal and upheld his conviction.

Chee was declared bankrupt in February 2006 for refusing to pay 500,000 Singaporean Dollars (US$328,900) in libel damages to former Prime Ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong.

Amnesty International (AI) has repeatedly expressed concern about defamation suits, bankruptcies and criminal charges used or threatened against government critics, human rights activists and foreign news media, which have lead to a climate of political intimidation and self-censorship in Singapore. Freedom of expression is tightly controlled by the People’s Action Party, which has been in power for more than 40 years with almost no opposition MPs.

According to AI, Chee has made a dozen applications to travel abroad to attend human rights and democracy meetings, all of which have been rejected. Chee has been jailed five times since 1999 for speaking in public without a permit, and for questioning the independence of Singapore’s judiciary.

Despite the loss of his university position, several terms of imprisonment, bankruptcy and a ban on his contesting parliamentary elections, Chee continues to speak out about human rights and democracy.

Before his arrest, he was planning a counter-conference on 17 October to the International Bar Association (IBA)’s international symposium in Singapore on the rule of law. Judging by IBA’s panels and speakers – high flyers from the Singapore government – Chee did not expect human rights violations and misuse of the law would make it onto the agenda.

His parallel conference will feature its own high-profile lawyers, politicians and activists who will prevent the IBA panel from “hijacking the idea and the practice of the rule of law,” and also meet with IBA officials to get human rights on the “official” agenda.

To find out more or to attend the conference, email: speakup@singaporedemocrat.org or visit: http://www.singaporedemocrat.org

Amnesty International Canada is asking you to write letters to Singapore’s President and the Singapore embassy in your country, demanding that human rights defenders like Chee are not penalised for expressing their opinions. For details of where to write, see: http://tinyurl.com/2bakjx

Dated: 11 September 2007

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