The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) is gravely concerned about the recent ruling of the Singapore High Court, in which Dr Chee Soon Juan’s conviction for speaking in public without a permit was upheld. The IBAHRI believes that Dr Chee, leader of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), has been the target of repeated attempts by Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) to stifle his opposition views and prevent him standing for parliament.
On 20 January 2011, Judge Steven Chong in the High Court, sentenced Dr Chee to a $20,000 fine which would have been commuted to a prison term of 20 weeks in the event that it had not been paid by 10 February. SDP supporters raised and paid the fine. However, the IBAHRI is gravely concerned that the ruling PAP party has passed and continues to enforce unlawful domestic legislation which prevents the open political discussion necessary to ensure a democratic society. Of particular concern to the IBAHRI are the Public Entertainment and Meetings Act, Public Order Act and the Miscellaneous Offence Act. Section 2(1) of the latter, makes it illegal to conduct any activity without a permit if it: (a) demonstrates support for, or opposition to, the views and actions of any person; (b) publicises a cause or campaign; or (c) marks or commemorates any event.
The IBAHRI understands that the government has repeatedly stated that no permits will be given for outdoor political events and believes that the government refuses permits and/or prosecutes those groups which challenge or oppose it. Furthermore, under section 45 of Singapore’s Constitution, a person who has been convicted of an offence and sentenced to a fine of at least $2,000 is not eligible to stand for Parliament.
Singapore has not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which formally guarantees the right to freedom of expression. However, the IBAHRI believes that Singapore remains bound by international customary law such as such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Under Singapore’s own domestic law, Article 14(1) of the Singapore Constitution guarantees the rights to freedom of speech, assembly and association.
The IBAHRI contends that Singapore should abide by recognised international standards on freedom of expression, as set out in the 2008 IBAHRI Report: Prosperity versus individual rights? Human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Singapore. The Singapore Government’s reluctance to accede to international standards on freedom of expression is unacceptable. In response to the recent Singapore High Court ruling on Dr Chee, the IBA’s Executive Director, Mark Ellis said: ‘When Singapore’s restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and association are read in conjunction with its constitutional rules for parliamentary candidates, it appears that the government is attempting to silence its critics. This is achieved through a combination of legislative restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, the routine denial of permits and selective prosecution of political opponents. The IBAHRI deplores Dr Chee’s convictions and urges the Singapore Government to issue a pardon to Dr Chee and to continue to work towards adopting recognised international standards on freedom of expression.’