Gone are the days when the local media has the monopoly on views expression in Singapore; when dissenting voices of the people were easily snuffed by a simple denial of publication. Today, we have the Internet.
The recent slew of attacks on Dr Chee Soon Juan by the PAP media was met by a barrage of responses from bloggers ranging from the indignant to the outraged. We post 3 selected articles from a clinical psychology, a medical doctor and an 18-year-old blogger.
Character assassination of the most uncharitable kind
9 June 2008
Morning Chua Lee Hoong,
I cannot deny how appalled I was reading your article on Chee Soon Juan (ST June 7).
It appears to be an unwarranted scathing attempt at character assassination of the most uncharitable kind.
This attack culminated in your amateurish attempt at offering a diagnosis of his personality that is flawed in all ways as a diagnosis of personality disorder requires a fuller expose of that which constitutes a disorder.
MM Lee Kuan Yew decided to engage in such denigration of Chee Soon Juan on more than one occasion. His name calling of him as being a psychopath reflects his ignorance as to what a psychopath is.
In any case, such labelling with psychological nomenclature merely exposes his truncated understanding of what a psychopath is, of which Chee does not in any way qualify.
This goes for you as well in your rather denigrating, demeaning and dismissive description of Chee.
You have chosen to highlight whatever you consider to be flaws in his approach and even worse, his character.
And yet, those of us who know him and have worked in some ways with him know otherwise.
I do wonder if you would do yourself, and the public for whom you wrote that article, a favour by embarking on a careful research of everything else he stands for and all that he has been doing without fanfare and publicity. And having done that, would you then have the integrity to offer another perspective of him, another “truth”, that you have so carefully sought to present in your article.
I would have thought there could be a little more charity in commenting on Chee rather than indulge in augmenting the already prejudicial opinions of this man.
One would have thought that any person regardless of what he does deserves respect and regard for human worth and dignity.
In any case, if you do wish to be better acquainted with what would present as an anti-social disorder, I would gladly assist on the basis of my more than 36 years of psychological work with disturbed people.
Counselling and Care Centre
Note: Dr Anthony Yeo wrote this letter directly to Ms Chua Lee Hoong, the Straits Times political editor.
The Politics of Madness
12 June 2008
Wong Wee Nam
The incarceration of free-thinking healthy people in madhouses is spiritual murder.
~ Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Soviet dissident and Nobel Prize-winning author
Last week, a friend brought to my attention some newspaper articles profiling Chee Soon Juan after he was sent to jail for contempt of court. One piece suggested Dr Chee could be suffering from antisocial personality disorder. This conclusion was based on Dr Chee’s behaviour that had matched the symptoms of a condition that the writer had gleaned from a medical website.
Another piece in another newspaper, with some clever quotes here and there, even imputed that Dr Chee could be mentally challenged and might even be psychotic.
I find these articles distasteful because the tone was to run down a person while attempting to look objective.
It is one thing to disagree with a person’s ideology, his methods and his political agenda. By all means, attack his thoughts, his values and his principles. By all means, criticise him with the harshest of words on his methods and his agenda. But to suggest that a person may be mentally not right when there has never been a psychiatric examination, is the meanest thing to do, especially from journalists whom the public expect to be factual and objective. Where is the medical evidence?
I have worked in Woodbridge Hospital, a psychiatric institution, before. Before we make a diagnosis of a patient, he needs to undergo a psychiatric examination. This requires one to two hours of examination of the patient by the psychiatrist, another one to two hours of interview with his relatives, some days of observation in the ward, some psychological testing by a psychologist and a conference of doctors and psychologists before a firm diagnosis is made.
How on earth then could a lay person have the temerity to make any claim on a medical diagnosis, especially a psychiatric one?
If we can make diagnosis from medical websites, then everyone in this world would find himself or herself mentally ill.
There are implications in such damaging articles and I do not know if the writers realize this.
In my opinion, it is all right for one politician to call another politician mad. I give leeway to political polemics. However, when writers, who are supposed to be objective and factual and not combatants in the political arena, take up the hatchet to demolish someone in this manner, I sigh and ask: As a society and a nation, where are we heading?
On reading the articles, I recall the use of psychiatry to suppress political dissent in some countries where, as New York Law School Professor Michael Perlin an expert on this form of suppression put it, “a patient’s conviction that the state must be changed was seen as an indication of mental illness.”
In such places, “If you protest politically, you demonstrate by that an absence of instinct for self-preservation, or if you pursue a legal complaint against a corrupted or repressive official, that’s a sign of mental illness.”
According to Professor Perlin, throwing dissidents into mental hospitals rather than prisons has three advantages:
(1) It avoids the already limited procedural safeguards of a criminal trial.
(2) It stigmatizes people to subordinate them, and
(3) It confines dissenters indefinitely at the State’s discretion.
Fortunately we are not in such a state. So far we have not used psychiatry as a weapon to intimidate or discredit citizens who tangle with the authorities. We have not criminalised dissidents or accused them of suffering from “Reformist delusions”.
I know our psychiatrists very well. They are very ethical professionals and none of them are likely to put a psychiatric label freely on those individuals who hold strong vocal opposition to government policies. I, therefore, hope our journalists will learn to be similarly responsible.
Surely, all of us, including our journalists, do not want to see us becoming like Russia where, as recent as July last year, Larissa Arap, a Russian journalist, was declared as suffering from paranoid personality disorder and was thrown into a mental hospital for writing an article for a newspaper produced by Gary Kasparov’s dissent movement that focused on the treatment of children in psychiatric hospitals?
According to MindFreedom director David Oaks said, “If a journalist and psychiatric critic and political party leader can be locked up in a psychiatric institution, then no one is safe.”
I am not a great fan of Dr Chee Soon Juan’s methods. Many years ago, when he was about to go on his hunger strike, Mr Chiam See Tong, his SDP party chief called me and asked me to try and talk him out of his impending action. I tried but failed and I told Chiam he was too obstinate to change his mind.
He may be a stubborn person but that does not mean he is mad. Until a person is properly diagnosed, I think it is wrong to impute a psychiatric label on him. Furthermore, by using a mental illness label to character assassinate a person, we would be perpetuating the notion that a mentally ill person has the status of an outcast and is something that our can society can do without. Aren’t we trying to de-stigmatise our mental patients?
Marina Trutko a nuclear scientist, a vocal activist and public defender for several years who had also been forcibly taken and thrown into a psychiatric hospital, knows what it is like to have a psychiatric label.
“Now I have this stamp on my forehead that I am a psychiatric patient,” she said. “I will always have this medical record now. That means I cannot go to court because judges say I’m a psycho and call for an ambulance.”
I hope the articles merely reflect the thoughtlessness of the writers and nothing else. Let us also hope that imputation of mentally abnormality will not become a popular way to discredit vocal people who hold alternative views.
It’s not too late to save ourselves from dropping into the gutter. Just learn to be fair.
Dr Wong Wee Nam is a medical practitioner
A moral victory for Dr Chee Soon Juan
14 June 2008
Fang Zhi Yuan
Following Dr Chee’s incarceration for contempt of court for which he was sentenced to 12 days’ imprisonment, the spin doctors at the state controlled media are quick to demonize him as a mentally unsound crankpot (sic) whose words are not to be trusted.
3 articles appeared in quick succession in the Straits Times and TODAY attacking not only Dr Chee’s methods, but his mental capacity as well by a journalist with no medical background playing psychiatrist in labelling Dr Chee as having an “anti-social personality” disorder.
This is not the first time that Dr Chee has been subjected to such public humiliation at the hands of the PAP journalists. The difference is, this time, their arguments against Dr Chee are not only unconvincing, but are utterly unfounded, despicable and repugnant in their insidious motives to completely demolish a man who is unable to defend himself behind bars.
Unexpectedly to the dismay and horror of the establishment, these baseless personal attacks and character assassination have stirred a furore in cyberspace with many previously neutrals decrying the disgusting smear campaign of the media and expressing their solidarity for Dr Chee.
Prominent psychologist Anthony Yeo wrote in a letter to Chua Lee Hoong, one of the many self-proclaimed “psychiatrist” of the Straits Times that
“It appears to be an unwarranted scathing attempt at character assassination of the most uncharitable kind. This attack culminated in your amateurish attempt at offering a diagnosis of his personality that is flawed in all ways as a diagnosis of personality disorder requires a fuller expose of that which constitutes a disorder.”
Mr Chia Ti Lik, a lawyer who represented U.S. blogger Gopalan Nair in his recent trial for sedition criticized all three journalists for their atrocious standards of journalism:
“In short, we have a political editor trying to play psychologist, an assistant editor without an independent opinion, and a journalist who had an opinion of how the article should read even before he started his interviews. Faced with such glaring facts, it is no wonder the press in Singapore is being ranked 154th in the world.”
Dr Wong Wee Nam summed it up succinctly the sentiments of the majority of netizens when he said that:
“It is one thing to disagree with a person’s ideology, his methods and his political agenda. By all means, attack his thoughts, his values and his principles. By all means, criticise him with the harshest of words on his methods and his agenda. But to suggest that a person may be mentally not right when there has never been a psychiatric examination is the meanest thing to do, especially from journalists whom the public expect to be factual and objective. Where is the medical evidence?”
Realizing its blatant folly, the state media immediately backtracked and published a series of “objective” articles on human rights and civil disobedience ingrained with subtle attacks on Dr Chee’s political ideology and methods.
In a ST Insight article today entitled “4 schools of opposition politics”, Zakir Hussain appeared to have learnt a lesson from his colleagues by concentrating on doing his job as a journalist instead of masquerading as a psychiatrist. Still the article contained veiled jibes at Dr Chee by evoking the successful “track records” of opposition MPs Chiam See Tong and Low Thia Kiang to dismiss him as a political juvenile.
A quote by PAP MP Charles Chong that voters here “appear put off by extremism” is another lame attempt to influence the public perception that Dr Chee’s extra-parliamentary route to effect political changes are infeasible and even unlawful in Singapore’s current political climate.
Why is the regime so anxious to chart the course of opposition politics in Singapore even at the expense of promoting its supposedly “rivals” – Low and Chiam as the more acceptable and palatable alternatives?
One need only look at the political careers of these two men. With no offence to Mr Low and Mr Chiam – they have proven themselves to be great MPs for their respective constituencies, what political changes or reforms have they implemented after more a decade in Parliament?
The regime is more than happy to allow a few such “obedient” opposition MPs who are no threat to their political hegemony in Parliament in order for them to continue to promote Singapore as a “democracy” to the international audience.
On the hand, Dr Chee’s calls for reform of the entire system will not only disrupt their political machinations, but will uproot their stranglehold on the branches of the government -both the executive and the judiciary once and for all.
Dr Chee’s message is finding resonance amongst the younger net-savvy generation and perhaps that is why the regime is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the current political trend. It even acknowledged tacitly that “Dr Chee’s strongest following seems to be on the internet where he has been hailed as someone ‘planting the seed for a better and freer Singapore.”
The regime has sought to muzzle Dr Chee and bar him from electoral politics for good. Nobody expects Dr Chee to walk away from the trial paying only $1 in damages. The trial itself has been an eye-opener, striking a fateful blow to the aura of moral righteousness enshrouding the regime. However it is what that follows next which truly exposed the innermost fears and vulnerability of the regime.
Dr Chee has won a great moral victory against the regime which is partially contributed by its over-zealous efforts to destroy him politically to the extent of attacking not only his character but sanity. This has put off many who are previously ambivalent about Dr Chee but now has become more sympathetic to his cause and willing to listen to what he has to say.
We may not agree with the political endeavors of Dr Chee entirely, but surely this man deserves our respect for his tenacity, courage and conviction.
After all, if Dr Chee is indeed a lunatic who cannot be taken seriously, why spent so much time, efforts and taxpayers’ money on him?
Mr Fang Zhi Yuan is a blogger at…