Spirituality, belief, and conscience inhabit a unique geography in the human mind and spirit as the continents of experience common to all mankind. Whenever this innermost territory of the human spirit is claimed or conquered by external political authority, it destroys the integrity of the person, which requires the right to exercise moral choice and to evolve and mature as a moral individual.
According to many, the right to religious freedom deserves unconditional respect and recognition. Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, noted that religious freedom is “neither an ascribed society status, nor a privilege granted by governments.”
Originating from an axiomatic respect for the equal dignity of all human beings, the inalienability of freedom of religion and belief is enshrined in several international instruments including the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.
Nonetheless, in Singapore today, members of minority religions are subjected to arbitrary arrests and detentions based solely on their exercise of their right to freedom of religion, belief and conscience.
Notwithstanding Article 152 of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore that requires that the government of Singapore “constantly care for the interests of the racial and religious minorities in Singapore,” Singapore instead uses imprecise vague laws to arbitrarily suppress religious freedom in Singapore largely through police state tactics that deprives religious minorities of their personal liberty, human dignity and other due process rights.
The October 2009 arrest and trial of a Mr. Chua Eng Chwee for meditating peacefully in a public place vividly illustrate these points.
Singapore national, Chua Eng Chwee, was arrested while meditating peacefully at the Esplanade underpass and subsequently charged with vandalism for placing against the wall of the Esplanade underpass placards that depicted the persecution of Falun Gong believers in China. He now faces sentencing.
According to Black’s Law Dictionary (as well as the anti-vandalism laws of all rule-of-law nations), the crime of vandalism requires the destruction or disfigurement of pubic or private property. Although the evidence of all the prosecution witnesses indicated that there was no damage whatsoever to the wall of the underpass by reason of the display of the placards, Mr. Chua was found guilty of vandalism under Singapore’s infamous Vandalism Act.
As his defense counsel aptly observed, since the Vandalism Act does not accord with any definitions of vandalism, this is a case of “legislated contravention by definition.” In other words, Mr. Chua stands to be convicted of vandalism because the state of Singapore pleases to call his actions that, not because he has actually vandalized anything.
This is also a case of persecution. For meditating peacefully next to a few placards exposing the persecution of his beliefs in China, Mr. Chua faces hefty fines, jail time and caning.
Singapore’s use of its justice system to suppress minority religions and belief is appalling. The current case of Mr. Chua vividly illustrates the extent to which the legitimacy of the Singapore government at home and abroad is forfeit.
Why the Singapore government should in this case damage its own good name for the sake of mistreating its own citizens is no mystery. Mr. Chua’s arrest coincided with the visit to Singapore of China’s paramount leader Hu Jintao and a large Chinese delegation come to attend the APEC meetings.
Several times in the past, when leaders of the Chinese regime have visited Singapore, the Singaporean government has arrested Falun Gong practitioners in an effort to please their guests.
This perversion of Singapore’s legal system, as seen in the cases of Mr. Chua and of other Falun Gong adherents arrested over the past decade in Singapore, is a Chinese import. The largest case of religious persecution in the world today—the persecution of Falun Gong by the Chinese Communist Party—finds expression in the charge of vandalism against Mr. Chua.
Perhaps at the last moment, the judge will refuse on Nov. 24 to punish Mr. Chua in this mockery of a case. But should the judge go through with the sentence requested by the state prosecutor, the people of Singapore should feel a cold shadow pass over that precious, innermost territory that they, like all humans, hold dear.