Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT)
14 Oct 07
His Excellency President S R Nathan
Office of the President
Istana, Orchard Road
Re: Dr. Chee Soon Juan and political freedoms in Singapore
We are writing on behalf of more than 57,000 academic staff at over 100 universities and colleges across Canada to express our concern about the suppression of political speech in Singapore. In particular, we are troubled by the continued persecution of Singaporean scholar and democratic opposition leader Dr. Chee Soon Juan.
A principle objective of our Association is to advance and defend freedom of expression precisely because we believe the free flow of ideas to be in the best interest of our people and our polity. We are similarly committed to the proposition that the global community is best served by the free circulation of ideas and thinkers within and across national borders.
Dr. Chee is an academic and activist who is recognized internationally as a defender of human rights. He received the Defender of Democracy Award from the Parliamentarians for Global Action in 2003 and continues to promote freedom of expression, transparency, and democracy throughout the Asia Pacific region.
It was precisely this sort of advocacy work that, as we understand matters, led to Dr. Chee’s most recent arrest by Singaporean authorities during a protest against the actions taken by Myanmar’s governing junta to quell civil demonstrations in that country. In a nation that purports to be a parliamentary democracy surely there can be room for the Secretary-General of an opposition party to publicize alternatives to the governing party’s handling of foreign affairs.
We have previously articulated our concerns about the difficulties faced by Dr. Chee in trying to exercise his fundamental human right to free expression in a letter to Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs that we copied to His Excellency Vanu Gopala Menon. In that letter, we note that “Dr. Chee had been held in contempt for attempting to raise the same concerns about the independence of the Singapore judiciary that have been repeatedly raised by international observers.” We also noted that “[g]overnment officials have publicly branded Dr. Chee a ‘liar’, ‘cheat’ and ‘fraud’ in apparent attempt to discredit and silence him,” that Dr. Chee’s “academic career has been destroyed,” and that he was bankrupted for allegedly defaming Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.
This last action seems symptomatic of the use of defamation suits to stifle critics of the government, a trend that has been commented upon by a number of organizations, including Lawyers’ Right Watch Canada and Amnesty International. Along with the enormous personal toll of litigation and bankruptcy on opposition politicians, the fact that a bankrupt individual may not hold a seat in Parliament must cause such defamation trials to be viewed, at best, cynically. Given Singapore’s extraordinary strengths, we see no reason why its government cannot now move securely and confidently to embrace the open and inclusive society envisioned by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his February, 2005, Swearing-In Speech.
We will continue to expand the space which Singaporeans have to live, to laugh, to grow and to be ourselves. Our people should feel free to express diverse views, pursue unconventional ideas, or simply be different. We should have the confidence to engage in robust debate, so as [to] understand our problems, conceive fresh solutions, and open up new spaces. We should recognise many paths of success, and many ways to be Singaporean. We must give people a second chance, for those who have tasted failure may be the wiser and stronger among us. Ours must be an open and inclusive Singapore.
An enormous step forward in realizing these goals will be taken the moment that the Singaporean government desists from the abuse of legal proceedings against Dr. Chee and other dissenting voices, and lifts its restrictions on the peaceful exercise of free speech, free assembly, and all the other fundamental rights that are necessary for democratic government to flourish.
Greg Allain James L. Turk
President Executive Director
cc. His Excellency Vanu Gopala Menon,
Permanent Representative of Singapore to the United Nations and High Commissioner to Canada
cc. The Hon. Maxime Bernier,
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Government of CanadaAmnesty International