SDP to Yale: Respect the rights of Singaporeans

Singapore Democrats

SDP secretary-general Dr Chee Soon Juan has written to Yale-NUS president Professor Pericles Lewis, pointing out the contradiction of promising academic freedom while banning political parties from engaging students on campus. $CUT$

18 July 2012

Professor Pericles Lewis
Yale-NUS College

Dear sir,

I read with extreme dismay the WallStreet Journal’s report that the new Yale-NUS College willnot allow “partisan politics” or the formation of”political parties on campus”. This includes societieslinked to political groups. Beyond that, however, students will be “totallyfree to express their views.”

Yale-NUS will adopt this policy becausethe Ministry of Education in Singapore insists that the College “willhave to comply with the university rules as well as Singapore laws.”

The ban is disturbing on two levels.First, would you care to point out what Singaporean law prohibits theconduct of partisan political activities by students or bans theformation of political parties and groups in universities?

In fact, under the Singaporeconstitution, Article14 guarantees that “every citizen of Singapore has the rightto freedom of speech and expression” and “all citizens ofSingapore have the right to form associations.” It is the rulingPeople’s Action Party that has hijacked the constitution and laid down these repressive laws.

If Yale wants to be a truly law-abidingcorporate citizen then it should respect the constitution which is the”supremelaw of the Republic of Singapore “, not unconstitutionalpronouncements made by the ruling party.

Of course, public assembly in Singaporeis disallowed. The obvious question that follows is: How canSingaporeans challenge such a law when the law strips away our veryright to challenge it?

Add to this the fact that the everynewspaper, TV channel and radio station on the island is owned andrun by the Government and you have the perfect autocratic system where laws – however undemocratic – are easily passed to control the people, including, now it seems, US universities that operate here.

It seems like this ban by Yale-NUS onpolitical parties is yet another pronouncement made arbitrarily bythe ruling party to safeguard its authoritarian control in Singapore.Tragically, Yale seems a rather willing partner in the exercise.

Secondly, if it is all right for Yalestudents to organise themselves and for political parties, like theRepublican Party and the Democratic Party, to engage in partisanpolitics in the Yale campus, why is it different forSingaporeans? Are Singaporean students – who, by the way, pay goodmoney to participate in the programme offered by Yale – notentitled to similar educational experiences as their counterparts inthe US? Are you not short-changing your students in Singapore?

Offering the meaningless concession thatstudents are, other than the prohibitions, “totally free toexpress their views” fools no one and is, quite frankly,offensive. It’s like trying to bluff a kid by telling him that otherthan something sweet, he can have any candy he wants. If I must spellit out, “totally” means to the full and complete extent, unencumberedby restrictions.

You had told your colleagues that”Things are changing (in Singapore) rapidly, and a lot of peoplein the US have a sense of it only from old newspaper reports.” Iagree. Unfortunately, it’s for the worse. While it was perfectlylegal for less than five persons to conduct a protest in the past,the Singapore Government introduced the Public Order Act in 2009 tooutlaw even one person from protesting.

I, as with many Singaporeans, havetremendous admiration for higher-education in the US. I was a studentat the University of Georgia in Athens and had the eye-openingexperience of joining my fellow Chinese and Taiwanese students inprotesting against the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 – oncampus. I am forever grateful for that opportunity to totally expressmy views, something I did not have in Singapore.

You can, therefore, well appreciatemy disappointment when I learned that a revered institution like YaleUniversity would acquiesce to an unreasonable, undemocratic, andun-academic policy to ban political parties from engagingstudents at Yale-NUS. I have been stopped – twice – from meetingstudents at NUS. It is tragic that I will again be unwelcome at anacademic institution in my own country.

My colleagues and I in the Singapore Democratic Party I have welcomed the setting up ofYale-NUS because we had hoped that the College would havethe courage of its convictions to reject undemocratic rulesregulating campus life. It seems now that instead of Yale opening upthe minds of Singaporeans through academic inquiry and scholarship,it is the Singaporean Government that will close the minds of thepeople running the College.

I would go to the US to discuss thismatter with you and your colleagues at Yale if I could. But I havebeen sued and made a bankrupt by two former prime ministers as wellas the current one and, as a consequence, I have been barred fromleaving the country. This, however, should not prevent us from meeting in Singapore on your next visit. As such, I take this opportunity to extend to you my invitation.

I am making this an open letter as its content is of public interest. Thank you and I look forward to your reply.


Chee Soon Juan
Singapore Democratic Party

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