Dr Chee Soon Juan was invited to attend the 9th anniversary of Friends of SUARAM (Johor branch) which was held in Skudai, Johor yesterday. SUARAM, or Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Voice of Malaysia), is an NGO that campaigns for human rights in the country.
SDP Assistant Secretary-General Mr John Tan attended the event in Dr Chee’s stead because of his travel ban. Mr Tan was accompanied by YD Honorary Secretary Jarrod Luo and YD Abdul Malik. The speakers at the forum-cum-dinner were Mr Nik Aziz of PAS; Mr Arutchelvan, Parti Sosialis Malaysia Secretary General; and Mr Liew Chin Tong, International Secretary of DAP.
Mr John Tan attended the dinner and delivered the address for Dr Chee. He also related some of his personal experiences including his repeated imprisonment for exercising his freedom of expression and assembly. He noted that NGOs in Malaysia did not shy away from engaging in politics and inviting opposition politicians to speak at their functions. In fact, many of SUARAM’s past leaders entered party politics and are now members of Malaysia’s legislature.
In his message, Dr Chee praised the organisation for its work and related the political similarities between Singapore and Malaysia:
Your Excellencies, Honourable Members of Parliament, and dear Friends of Suaram,
It is with honour that I accept this invitation to the Friends of Suara Rakyat Malaysia’s celebration of the 9th anniversary of its Johor branch. Of course, I do this only in spirit because the Government of Singapore has banned me from traveling overseas to attend such events.
But such a ban will not dampen my enthusiasm to be with an organisation that has long held my admiration for the tireless work that you do in defending human rights in Malaysia and the campaign to abolish the Internal Security Act in your country.
Suaram itself, of course, goes further back in its history with many of its leaders and associates now holding offices in Malaysian legislatures.
Indeed you have inspired many a civil society actor here in Singapore who is beginning to demonstrate signs of life in the authoritarian state. One of the most active NGOs in my country is the Society Against the Death Penalty (SADP) which is currently and rather ironically campaigning for the life of Malaysian Yong Vui Kong to be spared from the gallows because of drug peddling.
We, too, have the ISA which continues to detain citizens without trial. As you know the ruling People’s Action Party has imprisoned many opposition leaders, trade unionists, journalists and social activists under the ISA – many for decades – simply for opposing its rule. One giant among the detainees is Said Zahari who now resides among you in Malaysia.
This antiquated law formed during the colonial years must not be allowed to continue to terrorize and suppress a people. The Singapore Democratic Party joins in the growing movement, both in Malaysia and Singapore, to abolish such a law. The cowardly Act has no place in modern societies that strive for progress.
The ISA, however, is just one such tool used to stifle the development of democracy. In Singapore, we have a myriad of laws that the PAP Government uses to ensure its undemocratic rule. My party colleagues and I continue to be prosecuted for participating in peaceful protests. We are repeatedly imprisoned for exercising our rights to freedom of speech and assembly.
In 2009, the PAP even introduced the Public Order Act which prohibits even one person from conducting a protest.
Additionally, and quite uniquely to Singapore, there is also the defamation laws which have been employed by the ruling regime to silence its critics. My inability to be with you today is a result of a law suit which Lee Kuan Yew and former prime minister Goh Chok Tong took against me that resulted in the courts ordering me to pay half-a-million dollars in damages. My inability to meet their demands has resulted in my bankruptcy which, in turn, bars me from standing for elections as well as traveling overseas.
Mr Lee and his son, the current prime minister, also sued the SDP in 2006 for which they have been awarded another $500,000.
But despite all the harassment and persecution, I view the future with hope. For every democrat that dictatorships suppress, ten others will rise to continue the struggle for common decency, for political civility, for human rights.
While autocrats are mortal, the ideas and ideals of freedom transcend time. And just as it is impossible to stop an idea whose time has come, democracy will not be denied.
My friends, we work assured in the knowledge that we are on the right side of history.
On this special occasion, I extend to you my best wishes and heartiest congratulations on your 9th anniversary and even though I cannot be with you in person, no ban can stop me from celebrating this special occasion with you in spirit.
Yours in solidarity,
Chee Soon Juan
Singapore Democratic Party