Amnesty International Report 2009: Singapore

May 29, 2009
Singapore Democrats

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Amnesty International

AI logoAn easing of restrictions on freedom of assembly was overshadowed by heavy penalties and restrictive measures imposed on opposition activists, journalists and human rights defenders.

Suspected Islamic militants remained detained without charge or trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA), amid concerns that some were at risk of torture and other ill-treatment during questioning.

Foreign domestic workers continued to be excluded from legislation protecting the rights of foreign workers. Singapore rejected the UN General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on executions. At least five prisoners faced imminent execution, although the number of actual executions was unknown.

Repression of dissent

Defamation suits and restrictive measures continued against opposition activists, human rights defenders, foreign media and conscientious objectors. A climate of fear and self-censorship discouraged Singaporeans from fully participating in public affairs.

Singapore failed to provide basic protection for foreign domestic workers…

  • In September, the High Court ruled that the Far Eastern Economic Review magazine had defamed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew in an article about opposition leader Chee Soon Juan in 2006. The publisher was ordered to pay damages.
  • The Wall Street Journal Asia faced legal action for reporting that the judiciary was not independent.
  • In September, blogger Gopalan Nair was sentenced to three months in jail after criticizing a judge’s handling of a case involving opposition leaders.
  • In October, Chee Soon Juan, who was already bankrupt, and activist Chee Siok Chin were ordered to pay S$610,000 (US$414,000) in defamation damages to government leaders. They were subsequently sentenced to prison for contempt of court after criticizing the conduct of their trial. As bankrupts they were barred from seeking parliamentary seats or leaving the country without permission.

Freedom of expression and assembly

The government eased restrictions on public assembly (in one designated location), but continued imposing restrictions on media and peaceful demonstrations.

  • The film One Nation Under Lee was banned. The film depicted the former Prime Minister subjugating various government institutions.
  • Eighteen campaigners faced charges for holding unauthorized protest marches against the rising cost of living.

Migrants’ rights

Singapore failed to provide basic protection for foreign domestic workers, such as a standard number of working hours and rest days, minimum wage and access to employment benefits. The Employment of Foreign Workers Act continued to exclude domestic workers.

Detention without trial

Some 23 suspected Islamist militants remained detained under the ISA. There were continued concerns about the risk of torture and other ill-treatment following arrest. Five detainees were released on restriction orders.

Death penalty

At least five people convicted of murder faced imminent execution.

The government did not provide comprehensive information about application of the death penalty, such as the number of executions and death sentences imposed and the nationality, age and background of those executed.

In February 2008, Singapore initiated and signed a statement of disassociation objecting to a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on the use of the death penalty.

In December, Singapore voted against a second UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.

Freedom of religion

Twenty-six Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to be imprisoned for refusing compulsory military service. Five additional conscientious objectors were detained during the year.