Mr Alan Shadrake’s conviction and punishment for criticising the Judiciary marks another sad day for freedom of speech in Singapore. Sentenced to 6 weeks’ imprisonment and fined $20,000, the 76-year-old British author was penalised for writing Once A Jolly Hangman in which he questioned the administration of the death penalty in Singapore.
But why, some ask, did Mr Shadrake, a Briton, do what he did? After all, he is not a Singaporean. Why did he speak up so strongly on a Singaporean matter when most Singaporeans themselves did not?
The short answer is that Mr Shadrake believes that justice transcends nationality. He saw the controversy surrounding the mandatory hanging of small time drug peddlers and to him a life is a life no matter which country that life came from. He stood up for what he believed in and for his right to freely and honestly express it.
Freedom of expression is the very core of his profession and, one suspects, his person.
Sadly, it is something that is alien to the Singaporean society. Freedom of expression has long been drilled into our heads as concept that, if practiced, harms our country. Of course the proponents of this view are themselves the rulers of this land. It doesn’t take much to understand that if the PAP can banish free speech from this island, it controls the political narrative of this country thereby perpetuating its political dominance.
Many Singaporeans continue to buy in to this propaganda that political freedoms should be curtailed for the good of national unity and progress. Others, while not decrying these human rights per se, nevertheless believe they are irrelevant to the political situation in Singapore. The argument goes something like this: Human rights cannot increase my salary or free speech cannot get me a job.
Perhaps not. But it surely gives you that voice that you so desperately need to prevent the PAP from bringing in plane loads of foreign nationals who compete unfairly for your jobs. You can yell as much as you want but there’s not a darn thing that you can do to stop the PAP. Not without free speech.
This is because with the right to freedom of assembly and speech opposition politicians cannot go out to speak publicly to the people and win their confidence. The laws and policies passed to prevent the opposition from public speaking while allowing the PAP to do so ensures that the public hears only one point of view.
It is because there is no freedom of speech that we are faced with the problems confronting us today. The plight of Singaporean workers having to contend with the flood of foreigners is but one manifestation of the denial of freedom of speech. Other problems such as our inability to withdraw our CPF savings or HDB prices going through the roof are all a result of the opposition having no avenue to reach out to the people.
The PAP have us by the throat. The danger now is whether we are too deep in this trap to extricate ourselves. Have we made a Faustian pact by sacrificing our political rights for economic progress?
The one party that continues to fight for freedom of expression continues to be targeted by the PAP. No surprise there. The Singapore Democrats recognised the problem a long time ago: The denial of free speech is the reason why the people are so helpless against the PAP’s onslaught.
As a result, we made up our minds to work to claim back for Singaporeans their fundamental rights and in the process empower the people.
On the Internet the PAP continues, less successfully, to rubbish the importance of freedom of speech.
The Internet community must take the fight to the PAP. Let us not shy away from the struggle for freedoms of assembly and speech. Instead of servicing the falsehood that human rights are not important to bread-and-butter issues, we must educate Singaporeans that it is precisely the lack of our fundamental political freedoms that our economic woes continue to be ignored by the PAP Government.
It is only when we are able to freely express our views that we can liberate ourselves from the clutches of the PAP and live like rightful owners of this country again.