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Ours must be an open and inclusive Singapore, Mr Lee Hsien Loong intoned in his swearing-in speech in August 2004. He has a funny way of showing it.
Before the year was out, the Government banned a concert because it suspected that the event was going to be a gay concert. Three months later in March 2005, an application by a local gay Christian support group to hold a concert was rejected because the Media Development Authority said that the show would promote a homosexual lifestyle.
At about the same time, Singaporeans came to learn of some rather curious news. A man, who said that he was Mr Yong Pung Hows remisier when the Chief Justice (CJ) was still the OCBC chairman before the switch in professions, was handed a defamation writ by none other than the CJ himself. Not to be outdone, the Attorney-General charged Mr Boon Suan Ban for criminal defamation. The hapless financier was subsequently acquitted because he was of unsound mind. This would have been good news except that Mr Boon very quickly found himself receiving the hospitality of the Institute of Mental Health, where he will remain incarcerated at the Presidents pleasure. Of course, the President is advised by the cabinet.
March was a busy month for the oppressors. A film-buff thought that an open and inclusive society meant that he could make a film on oppositionist Dr Chee Soon Juan. Mr Martyn See, the maker of the film, was not very right. The State threatened prosecution unless he withdrew his product from the Singapore International Film Festival. Mr See obliged but got a call from the police for questioning anyway (which is due to take place soon watch this space).
Still in March. Mr J B Jeyaretnam made an application for a march to protest the Governments decision to allow casinos to be built. It was greeted with the customary nyet.
In April, the Government banned Amnesty Internationals Mr Tim Parritt from speaking at a public forum on the death penalty in Singapore. The Home Ministrys prickly reply pointed out that Singapore didnt need foreigners to tell it how to run the criminal justice system, but then happily added that a foreign business company (PERC) had rated its legal system highly. At the forum itself, the police apparently had the urge to demonstrate their strength by confronting the panel moderator with uniformed officers because they thought that she was not a Singaporean.
Two weeks later, two Falungong practitioners were imprisoned for handing out DVDs and gathering in public without permits. (Sometimes, one gets the feeling that Singapore would fall apart if it didn’t have permits.)The jailing triggered off protests by fellow believers around the world.
Student and blogger, Mr Chen Jiahao, then became the flavour of the week when he found himself on the receiving end of an eyeful of email rebuke (12 messages to be exact) from none other than Mr Philip Yeo. Mr Chen had criticized Mr Yeos A*Star, an organization which handled scholars. Mr Yeo, the powerful state executive, took offence and threatened to sue Mr Chen, the physics student. Mr Chen quickly removed the blog. So did a Mr Gilbert Koh, a fellow blogger who blogged in his own name, who intimated that it was too dangerous blogging with ones real identity because Singaporeans were living in a sue-happy state.
Just when you think the control-freaks had had enough, the police stepped in during a vigil on May 6 for condemned death row inmate, Mr Shanmugam, and warned the organizers to stop allowing participants to speak.
Whew! And were still not through the first year of the Lee Hsien Loong prime ministership! The Singapore Democrats will continue to track Mr Lee’s progress. With openness and inclusiveness like these, who needs authoritarianism.
Mr Goh Chok Tong wanted a kinder and gentler Singapore. Mr Lee Hsien Loong wants an open and inclusive Singapore. The difference between the two is that one of them borrowed the words of an American president. The similarity is that they are words…just loud, empty words.