Two Catholic nuns strode confidently up St Martin’s Drive to pen their names to the petition letters to the Burmese military regime and the Singapore Government.
Over the past few days, the PAP Government has been running a campaign to discourage people from coming to the Burmese embassy.
It started off with ASP Deep Singh telling the petitioners last Sunday to leave the area as five or more people constituted an illegal assembly, the first day of the letter campaign.
When that failed, the police resorted to stationing themselves at the entrance to St Martin’s Drive, stopping visitors and taking down their particulars. The officers were turning people away. This too had limited effect, as people still came in numbers.
Over the next few days, some letter-writers to the Straits Times started saying that the SDP was making use of the plight of the Burmese for our own ends.
This was a ridiculous accusation. The Singapore Democrats have been following and speaking up on the situation in Burma for more than 10 years now.
As early as 1996, we published an article in our newspaper, The New Democrat, about the Singapore Government’s investments in Burma, and called for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
Dr Chee himself has through the years written about Burma and spoken at various conferences about the repression there. In fact, one of the chapters in his book To Be Free is about Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi. The chapter has even been translated and published in Sweden.
In any event the police did not let up the pressure on the SDP’s petition campaign. The Singapore Democrats understand that some monks in Singapore wanted to hold a prayer session outside the Burmese embassy but was told not to do so by the police.
We also heard from various sources that the police have been asking the monks at the temples to tell the devotees not to go to the embassy. The police themselves were warning Burmese nationals at the Peninsula Plaza not to attend the SDP’s petition-signing campaign.
Other petition campaigns were subsequently organised and the local media quickly played up these events. The SDP is told that the police even provided buses to transport petitioners from Peninsula Plaza to the petition sites.
Back at the Burmese embassy, nearly 1,100 signatures were collected over a period of eight days. This is despite all the silly politicking and intimidation by the Singapore Government.
The table will remain at St Martin’s Drive for one final night tonight. It seems like we have been at the site for such a long time that one volunteer quipped that the table has now become 15-A St Martin’s Drive.
Whatever happens from here, one thing is clear: something historic happened outside the Burmese embassy. Apart from the fact that the Burmese came in droves to vent their anger and say their prayers for their homeland, and in the process created a memorial-shrine of messages, flowers and candles, Singaporeans also learned how public civil action can be conducted in a dignified and peaceful manner.
For our friends from Burma, justice cannot come sooner. We stand in solidarity with you.
For our fellow Singaporeans, our own quest for freedom and democracy is just beginning.