As a candlelight vigil for Ms. Siok Chin outside of Changi Prison in Singapore concluded yesterday evening, almost ten thousand miles away another demonstration was just getting underway outside of the Singapore Embassy gates in Washington, DC.
A group of concerned US citizens, carrying banner and sign that read: “FREE THE CHEES” stood outside the embassy walls for nearly an hour, chanting, “FREEDOM IN SINGAPORE NOW!”, and calling on embassy officials to meet with them.
Finally, after about twenty minutes, several embassy officials pried out the electronic gates at the entrance to the fortified embassy and met with Mr. Timothy Cooper, executive director of Worldrights. Mr. Cooper introduced himself to the embassy official, but he would only provide his last name—one reluctant Mr. Kuek.
Mr. Cooper conveyed the group’s overarching messages to Mr. Keuk. All the while embassy security men hovered about the respectful demonstrators, photographing them, no doubt, for their security files—precisely the way they do in Singapore; their hyper-actions seemed peculiar—bizarre even—in the Washington, DC daylight.
Mr. Cooper stated to Mr. Keuk that the group had come to draw attention to what they believe is the misrule of law—not rule of law—in Singapore. He said that they were raising questions about a judicial system that appeared to disallow both Dr. Chee and Ms. Chee the fundamental right to mount a proper self-defense and cross-examination of plaintiff’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and PM Lee Hsein Loong during last week’s damages hearing by cutting short their time and severely restricting the nature of their questions.
Mr. Cooper also noted that there exists a far-reaching perception in the international legal community, especially among human rights advocates, that in Singapore political cases, where leading opposition figures are concerned, a fair trial is viewed as highly unlikely in defamation suits. And that serious questions had been raised by many about the government’s use of libel laws to try to silence its fiercest political critics.
Mr. Cooper also observed that the group had serious concerns about the right of Singaporeans to enjoy freedom of speech and assembly, bulwarks of any politically mature nation—either in Asia or elsewhere. Finally, Mr. Cooper stated that Singapore’s leadership’s reluctance to embrace universally recognized civil and political freedoms for its own citizens held the nation back from reaching its fullest potential, observing that political plurality and economic prosperity are not—nor have they ever been—mutually exclusive. In fact, he said, they are mutually inclusive, with one serving well the other.
Mr. Keuk stated that he would pass along the groups’ sentiments to his superiors. Then his security men, pocketing their digital cameras, disappeared behind the closing embassy gates… It was then that the demonstrators resumed their chanting. And it was a cry that could be heard beyond the embassy rooftops: ‘FREE THE CHEES!!! FREE THE CHEES!!! FREEDOM IN SINGAPORE NOW!!!”