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2 Mar 07
In the midst of serious developments, there is some good news: concern and action are increasing within Singapore and among the international community – and at high levels. A still small but growing number of courageous Singaporeans refuse to remain silent and are speaking out about their right to enjoy fundamental human rights. In particular, they are actively and openly opposing continuing executions and Singapore’s tight restrictions on freedom of expression.
However, several Singaporean human rights campaigners are still paying a great price, Dr Chee Soon Juan foremost amongst them, and facing imprisonment, bankruptcy and the threat of further lawsuits.
But their actions are now supported by many more in the international community, the latest being an invitation by the Italian government to prominent opposition leader Dr Chee Soon Juan to speak in Rome – an invitation he is prevented from taking up as the Singapore authorities refuse to give him a travel permit.
As the international media covers developments, foreign critics are watching the moves against the Far Eastern Economic Review, now facing a suit for defamation filed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, following the journal’s favourable article on Dr Chee Soon Juan.
The use of the judicial system against Singapore’s opposition and the responsibility of judges is increasingly questioned in the international community. Francis Seow’s latest book, Beyond Suspicion? The Singapore Judiciary, is published at a time when Dr Chee and his colleagues face a barrage of suits and when two more executions take place after appeals fail and questions are raised about international trial standards. The planned annual meeting in Singapore of the International Bar Association is facing very critical reactions.
II. DEATH PENALTY
On 26 January, amidst growing international condemnation, Singapore hanged Nigerian Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, 21, and Okele Nelson Malachy, 35, reportedly from South Africa.
They had received the mandatory death sentence for drug trafficking. Anti-death penalty campaigners underlined that the judge imposed the mandatory death sentence on Tochi despite appearing to accept that he might not have known that the capsules he carried contained heroin.
The executions were carried out after President S R Nathan took what was described as “an unusually long time” to decide on Tochi’s final appeal, raising some hopes that a decision would be favourable. Malachy was reported to have claimed responsibility for the drugs and that Tochi knew nothing about their actual substance. Tochi’s family could not afford to travel to Singapore to see him before the execution.
Tochi reportedly had told his lawyer, M Ravi, “Please don’t let these people kill me”, and was crying within minutes of his execution. (www.singaporedemocrat.org 1/2) His final letter to lawyer M Ravi was quoted as thanking him for all his efforts and wishing him a “happy new year”. (www.singaporedemnocrat.org 28/1)
The Singapore government continues to claim that the death penalty serves as a deterrent. Shortly after the two executions, Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng was quoted as saying, “There is no room to go soft….Once we slip, it is going to be an uphill task to recover”. (AFP 29/1) The Central Narcotics Bureau was reported as stating that drugs cases surged in 2006, mainly due to the use of the prescription drug Subutex, which has now been made illegal. (Reuters 23/1) Six suspected heroin traffickers, including two Malaysian and one Chinese national, were arrested. (AP 28/1)
Major international media covered the executions, with frequent references to AI’s concerns and to widespread condemnation of Singapore’s shocking per capita rate of executions. (Reuters 20/1, 26/1, N-tv 26/1, AP 26/1, AFP, 26/1, Mail and Guardian 26/1, SCMP 26/1, Voice of America etc)
Singaporeans, including human rights and anti-death penalty campaigner-lawyer M Ravi, held an overnight candlelight vigil before the execution date. Chee Siok Chin’s article following the executions called for Tochi’s execution not to be in vain: “We decided we would not be rendered voiceless….Taking action is the most effective way to make our voices heard, that is, non-violent, peaceful action….Each little action will accumulate and eventually unite this ugly noose around our nation….Let’s not let Tochi’s death be in vain”. She underlined that “The greater tragedy in this case lies in the fact that the president will not spare the life of an innocent man….High Court Judge Kan Ting Chui pronounced that ‘there was evidence that [Tochi] did not know the capsule contained diamorphne’…This cold-blooded and mindless act by the Singapore Government must at least rouse the conscience of the people”. She recorded that her request to visit Tochi before his execution had been denied, as only the family is allowed. (www.singaporedemocrat.org 29/1) She and M Ravi joined the 24-hour hunger strike launched by MEP Marco Panella to support the campaign taking place in Italy. (www.singaporedemocrat.org 23/1)
Pictures of the vigil and an article by Charles Tan, who attended the vigil, can be accessed at www.singaporedemocrat.org (28/1) Tan lists three arguments against the death penalty, which he says “has no place in any modern and civilised society”: it contravenes the UN Declaration of Human Rights; it does not solve problems; and it is irreversible. (http://www.amnestyusa/abolish/deterrence.html)
Lawyer M Ravi has been campaigning in Europe against Singapore’s executions. His address to a European Parliament sub-committee on 29/1 was attended by some 200 observers. Members of the EP urged the EU to take a more active role in dealing with the Singapore government. They sent condolences to Tochi’s family and advised that his case be raised before the UN Sub-Committee on Human Rights and at other UN meetings. Ravi’s itinerary included a meeting with the European Commmission and participatiion in the Paris international conference of the World Coalition against the Death Penalty and meetings with Lawyers of the World and Lawyers Without Borders. (www.singaporedemocrat.org 1/2) His book, Hung at Dawn, is to be translated into German.
The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions appealed on the grounds that Tochi’s trial did not ensure the fundamental right to the presumption of innocence.
Nigeria’s President and politicians appealed to the Singapore government to spare Tochi’s life and reacted strongly to the execution. A former deputy foreign minister called for the breaking of ties with Singapore. (VoA 27/1) In the period leading up to Tochi’s execution, Nigeria’s Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) stated that it was organizing a pan-Africa campaign on Tochi’s case, and, given the inaction at that time by the Nigerian government, stated that it was taking legal action in order to compel the government to file a complaint before the International Court of Justice. In an appllication to Nigeria’s Federal High Court, the organization was pressing on a constitutional obligation to “explore every avenue including adjudication to ensure that international standard as it relates to the right to fair hearing is respected in the determination of the right of citizens wherever they are placed on trial..[and] [w]hether the Federal Government is duty bound to deploy its resources for the defence and protection of the right to life of every citizen who is arbitrarily condemned to death in a foreign country”. CLO lawyer Princewill Akpakpan condemned the execution, saying that it placed on Singapore a “negative spotlight…among civilised nations of the world”.
AI called on the Singapore government to spare the life of Amara Tochi, and stated that there was “no direct evidence that he knew the capsules contained diamorphone”. Numerous international media agencies carried the news. Reuters referred to AI’s comments that the trial judge “appears to have accepted that he [Tochi] might not have realised the substance he was carrying was heroin”. Reuters again referred to the very high number of executions carried out since 1991 — more than 420, believed to be the highest per capita worldwide. (UA ASA 36/001/2007, UA ASA 36/002./2007, Reuters 20/1)
The European Union stated it was “deeply concerned”, especially since Tochi had been sentenced on the basis of the mandatory death penalty, and under the law the defendant has to prove his innocence rather than the court having the responsibility to prove his guilt. (wwwr.singapur.diplo.de/Vertretung/singapur/en/02/Botschafter_u25/1 )
Germany’s Freie Demokratische Partei human rights spokesperson, Florian Toncar, commented: “The execution of Amara Tochi does not throw a bright light on the human rights situation in Singapore…the death penalty is a cruel and inhumane punishment. There were significant doubts of both Tochi’s guilt itself as well as the rule of law applied to Tochi’s trial process. Singapore should immediately abolish the death penalty and join the 129 countries all over the world that have taken this step”. (www.fdp.de, 29/1?)
Singapore-based art critic Lee Weng Choi expressed concern that the mandatory death sentence took away the discretionary power of the judiciary.
III. HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
1. Dr Chee Soon Juan and colleagues
Dr Chee, Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), was sentenced in his latest trial to S$4,000 or three weeks in prison for attempting to leave the country in April 2006 to attend the World Movement for Democracy conference in Turkey. As a bankrupt, he has to have official permission to go abroad. He is appealing the decision. All twelve applications in the past year to attend meetings abroad have been rejected — meetings organized by freedom-of-expression NGos ranging from the Council of Asian Libverals and Democrats to the Community of Democracies. (www.singaporedemocrat.org 26/2)
He is also facing numerous suits: for speaking in public without a licence and for a critical article in his party’s newsletter. His response is that the penalties strengthen his determination to work for change in Singapore. In a video statement hours before his November (and fifth) imprisonment, he set out his objective: “This is where the problem lies: In Singapore, legitimate political activities have been banned and criminalized so much that it renders elections meaningless….This is why my colleagues and I put so much effort and resources into fighting for the political rights for our fellow citizens”. He also spoke of the need for non-violent action to ensure freedom of political expression and choice. “They can jail us, but they cannot jail our spirits….Don’t be discouraged. One day, we will be free. We shall overcome”. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnLqpyupQfg, 23/11)
On November 23, Dr Chee was sentenced to a fine of S$5,000 or five weeks in prison for speaking publicly without a permit while handing out SDP papers on April 22 prior to the 2006 General Election. He refused to pay the fine on principle, commenting “Every hour, every day, every month that I spend in jail only strengthens my resolve.” He hugged his wife and children before being led away by the police to prison. SDP colleagues Yap Keng Ho and Gandhi Ambalan were sentenced on the same charge respectively to 10 days (in lieu of a S$2,000 fine) and three weeks (in lieu of a S$3,000 fine). (Reuters 23/11, [email protected] 23/11, AP 23/11) In a brief message to AI and other supporters before going to court for sentencing, he wrote: “We are not deterred. We’ll fight on in the name of democracy and freedom”. While in prison, he complained of severe headaches, vomiting and abdominal pains, and was eventually hospitalised. There, tests showed blood in the urine, pains in the abdomen, very low blood pressure and loss of weight. ( www.singaporedemocrat.org 4/12, AP 5/12) Dr Chee suspected that the problem was caused by the prison food, which was served to him on a specially marked tray. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) asserted that an SDP statement of concern contained “grave falsehoods and serious allegations attacking the integrity of the Singapore Prison Service”. ([email protected] 6/12) Dr Chee later called the MHA’s statements riddled with “inconsistencies, contradictions and outright lies” and challenged the government to substantiate its points by providing records. (www.singaporedemocrat.org 2/1) Friends and supporters of Dr Chee, Gandhi Ambalan and Yap Keng Ho held night vigils outside Queenston Remand Prison, where they were held. Dr Chee was released 16 December. (www.iht.com 16/12, www.bangkokpost.com16/12)
Yap Keng Ho later stated that he had not been allowed to visit Dr Chee while all three were still in prison and had been concerned about the health of Gandhi Ambalan, who had heart problems. He acknowledged that he himself had received intensive medical treatment when he went on hunger strike. He had told the prison staff that he would be their “regular customer” – he is facing, with Dr Chee, seven more charges of speaking in public without permission.
Gandhi Ambalan was released 7 December. His family had been allowed to visit the day after his incarceration, but not afterwards, despite raising concerns about his health. (www.singaporedemocrat.org 5/12)
Dr Chee’s current trial is on a charge of trying to leave Singapore without permission on 1 April 2006 in order to attend a World Movement for Democracy conference in Turkey. As a bankrupt, he is required to have the permission of the Official Assignee. (He was declared bankrupt in 2006 for defaming Lee Kuan Yew and Lee Hsien Loong for remarks during the 2001 election.) Channel News Asia reported that, under the Bankruptcy Act, he faces up to two years in jail and/or a fine of S$10,000 and that, under the Penal Code, the jail term would not exceed half of that imposed under the Bankruptcy Act. (cna 9/1, www.singapo9redenmocrat.org 5/1) . His lawyer, Alfred Dodwell, questioned apparent irregularities in the Official Assignee’s office in handling Dr Chee’s application, and argued that there was no case to answer as he did not actually leave the country. His travel application was rejected only after the conference was over.(www.singaporedenocrat.org 31/1)
In a letter to Attorney-General Chao Hick Tin, Dr Chee criticised his address at the opening of the 2007 Legal Year. On the Attorney-General’s point that flouting the law “is to undermine the very basis of the rule of law”, Dr Chee called for the government itself to submit to the rule of law, despite Lee Kuan Yew’s statement that “the executive powers of the Government should not be clipped”. Dr Chee pointed to the need for equality under the law: although PAP ministers illegally entered polling stations during the 1997 elections, no legal action was taken against them. Under the Films Act film makers had been threatened and interrogated after making videos about opposition figures – yet the government and the PAP made political films. Dr Chee quoted Martin Luther King: “An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust…is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law”. (www.singaporedemocrat.org 12/1)
Dr Chee sought an initiative by US President Bush prior to his visit to Singapore. In a letter to President Bush, Dr Chee, expressed concern about increased restrictions on freedom of speech and peaceful assembly, and asked him to press the Prime Minister regarding democracy (www.singaporedemocrat.org 15/11). Media reported during the visit that President Bush said that Singapore was a model for the region as a country that overcame poverty through opening up to free trade. Prime Minister Lee commented that he and President Bush found a “significant degree of matching in our views”. (ST 17/11) The Daily Standard later reported that President Bush had passed on the chance “to push his freedom agenda….[T]he president could have made remarks in support of freedom of speech and democracy in Singapore itself — he could have praised people like Chee. But he didn’t”. (http://weeklystandard.com 6/12)
2. Lawsuit against Chee Siok Chin and Chee Soon Juan
Judge Belinda Ang had convicted them in September of defaming Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, for comments made in an SDP newsletter concerning National Kidney Foundation spending and government responsibilities. Judge Ang said in December that they could not prove that the comments were based on fact. (ST 8/12) Assessment of damages against the plaintiffs are now proceeding through the pre-trial stage.
3. Chee Siok Chin, Monica Kumar and Yap Keng Ho
All were facing possible bankruptcy due to legal costs. The costs were incurred following the dismissal of their suits calling for the court to declare that the police and Minister for Home Affairs had overstepped their powers by dispersing four peaceful protesters outside a public building in 2005. The costs against them amounted to S$23,745. (www.singaporedemocrat.org 26/11)
Francis Seow’s new book, Beyond Suspicion? The Singapore Judiciary, has been published in the midst of international condemnation of Singapore’s continuing human rights violations – particularly in regard to executions and to severe punishments handed down by the courts to those who attempt to exercise their fundamental right to freedom of expression. Now questions are increasingly asked about the fairness of Singapore’s laws and the role and responsibility of the judiciary. As a former prisoner of conscience, Mr Seow writes not only as a lawyer/observer but also out of his own experiences. The foreword is by Garry Woodard, former Australian Ambassador and National President of the Australian Institute of International Affairs. Chapters cover the Hotel Properties Ltd case, the 1996/97 elections, the treatment of Tang Liang Hong and J B Jeyaretnam etc. Christopher Tremewan comments: “This is an extremely valuable record of many significant cases and events that lay bare the dynamics of the Singapore judiciary and its intersection with political personalitlies and imperatives. It is an impressive work…of scholarly and public policy interest, providing chapter and verse on the politico-legal nexus in Singapore”. Christopher Tremewan is Pro Vice-Chancellor (International), University of Auckland, New Zealand. The book is now available (www.yale.edu/seas/BeyondSuspicion). It may also be up on Amazon.com.
Developments were covered by leading newspapers, including Asia Times, International Herald Tribune, Bangkok Post, Economist, Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) etc and major international news agencies, including Reuters, AP and AFP. The Central Chronicle pointed out “an important lesson for Singapore”: i.e. that the GDP is not the only index of progress and referred to India’s impressive economic performance while general welfare has serious problems. Singapore, second only to Japan in economic development, scores lowest in Asia’s Well-being index. According to the survey, to be respected as a free human being and to have freedom to make personal choices — parameters on which Singapore has a low score — contribute much more to people’s feeling of well-being than economics. (www.centralchronicle.com 6/1)
An Asia Times article, Light a candle for Singapore’s shackled opposition, judged that “the current campaign against Chee is clearly more an act of political desperation than just another example of the PAP’s trademark repression”. The article referred to the 2004 suit launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew against the Economist and now against FEER. Lee Hsien Loong’s promise of an “open society” was not materialising, and Chee Soon Juan’s criticisms of the Lee family’s concentration of power over national finances were “highly sensitive” to the Lees: ” [B]ehind bars Chee’s [candle] is the beacon of Singapore’s democratic aspirations”. (1/12) In his Nouvel Observateur article, Bruno Birolli wrote that Dr Chee Soon Juan was “le dissident le plus connu de Singapour… condamné à cinq semaines d’emprisonnement . Son délit: avoir parlé en public sans permis”. (www.nouvelobs.com 7/12)
AI issued a statement, calling on the Singapore government “to stop using restrictive laws and defamation suits to muzzle critics and opposition party members [which] have served to maintain a climate of political intimidation and self-censorship”. AI said that the government acted in “clear violation of international law and standards on freedom of expression”, thus belying its repeated claims that it is building an ‘open society’. (www.amnesty.org 14/12)
AI members in Canada, Malaysia, Greece, South Africa, Zambia and Tunisia (and possibly other countries) agreed to send messages to Dr Chee and/or the Singapore authorities on Human Rights Day, December 10 (www.amnesty.ca 10/12) A number of the letters were posted on the SDP website (www.singaporedenocrat.org), all assuring Dr Chee of support: “Your work, courage, and determination is admirable….You are not alone”, “I am writing to you today to express my gratitude that you are speaking out in the name of human rights in Singapore….You are a brave man…we will succeed….We in Canada have you in our hearts”, “Take heart my brother”. Letters to the authorities called for an end to restrictions on freedom of expression, and an end to defamation and other laws used to penalize political opponents. Dr Chee’s wife, Huang Chih Mei, later wrote “A Very Big Thank You to all at Amnesty International Canada and those who sent those lovely letters and postcards”.
Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) issued a press release and wrote to the authorities, expressing “grave concern” and denouncing the use against Dr Chee and his colleagues of laws that undermine “the spirit of section 14 of the Singaporean Constitution, which guarantees Singaporeans freedom of speech, association and assembly. Moreover, it is fundamentally out of step with international standards and incongruent with the Singapore government’s attempts to market itself as an open and democratic society….Lawyers’ Rights Watch strongly condemns this subversion of the rule of law and continued persecution of Chee Soon Juan”. The Ministry of Home Affairs responded: “Dr Chee’s incarceration has nothing to do with him exercising his right ‘to publicly express his views on human rights and governance issues’ “. (www.lrwc.org 4/12 , 13/12)
Liberal International (LI) expressed “grave concern” over the detention of Dr Chee, Gandhi Ambalan and Yap Keng Ho. LI president, Lord Alderdice, said: “This policy…is intended to intimidate into silence all criticism of an increasingly authoritarian government…Liberal International agrees with Amnesty International and shares its concerns over the detention of Dr Chee and the Singapore Government’s restrictions on freedom of expression”. (www.liberal-international.org)
World Forum for Democratization in Asia stated its strong condemnation of “the jail sentence passed on one of our steering committee members….This is yet another step in the ongoing judicial persecution of Dr Chee and the members of the SDP….We call on the judiciary of Singapore to live up to its proper mission to uphold the rule of law by protecting the basic human rights of all Singaporean citizens”. (www.wfda.net 23/11)
Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia (ARDA) was “appalled” at the imprisonment of Dr Chee Soon Juan and called on Singapore to “stop using repressive laws to silence dissenting voices….We call on the leaders of Singapore to stop its harassment of our Chairman Chee Soon Juan and democracy advocates in Singapore”. ARDA’s Steering Committee includes Tian Chua (Vice-President of Malaysian opposition party Keadilan and a former prisoner of conscience), Wang Dan (a student leader of the Tiananmen Movement) along with prominent campaigners in Cambodia, Mongolia, Tibet, Australia, Pakistan, Japan and Hong Kong. (www.asiademocracy.org 24/11)
Human Rights First (HRF) wrote to Singapore’s ambassador to the USA, Chan Heng Chee, expressing concern about the health of Dr Chee, Gandhi Ambalan and Yap Keng Ho in prison and the legal process that had put them there. HRF called their trial “flawed and inconsistent with international fair trial standards”. (www.humanrightsfirst.org) 14/12)
Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) stated that it was “disheartened by the way the Singapore authorities have tried to subdue dissent through the legal system”. Its statement was signed by CALD leaders in the Philippines, Taiwan, Cambodia, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka. (www.cald.org 15/12)
Participants in a conference in Brussels, Belgium, entitled Democracy promotion: the European Way, called on the PAP to stop the harassment and “judicial persecution of Dr Chee and of the Members of the Singapore Democratic Party”. Their statement called for medical care and respect for his basic rights, including the right to freedom of speech and participation in the political life of Singapore. It was signed by democracy campaigners from the USA, Italy, Vietnam, Cuba, Laos, Germany, Taiwan, Albania, Iran, the Netherlands and Tunisia. (7/12)
Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that Dr Chee was detained for exercising his right to freedom of expression and should be released immediately and unconditionally. “Once again, the Singaporean government has reacted to public criticism by jailing the critic”. (www.hrw.org 8/12)
World Movement for Democracy (WMD) condemned “the jail sentence of World Movement for Democracy participant in Singapore, Dr Chee Soon Juan…[and] is concerned about Dr Chee’s health condition”. WMD was also concerned about Yap Keng Ho, who was on hunger strike and not allowed to have visitors, and about Gandhi Ambalan, who had a heart ailment and whose family was not allowed access. (www.wmd.org 29/11)
The US National Endowment for Democracy (NED) wrote to Singapore’s ambasssador to the US about the imprisonment of the three men, saying that the prison authorities were wrong to interpret Dr Chee’s failure to eat in prison as a hunger strike — and therefore deprive him of family visits and “yard time”. NED urged their unconditional and immediate release, stating that the continued actions against Dr Chee were unacceptable. (www.ned.org 2/12).
The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) wrote to Singapore’s ambassador to the USA, Chan Heng Chee, expressing “grave concern” about the imprisonment of Dr Chee, Yap Keng Ho and Gandhi Ambalan, drawing particular attention to health concerns. (www.singaporedemocrat.org 2/12)
The US-based Community of Democracies appealed for Dr Chee to be allowed to attend a meeting of democracy activists in Taiwan 22 – 23 January. Among the request’s signatories were 14 leaders and representatives of civil society groups in South Africa, the Philippines, Russia, the USA, Chile, Mali, Tunisia, Italy, Romania, Egypt, France and Cameroon. (German Press Agency www.chinapost.com.tw 11/1) The Italian government’s Foreign Affairs Ministry invited Dr Chee to speak at a Community of Democracies Working Group 1 March in Rome – but he was, again, refused a travel permit by the Singapore authorities. (www.singaporedemocrat.org 25/2)
In response to Michael Moore, the UK Liberal Democratic Party’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, the UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Margaret Beckett, stated that the Singapore government was “well aware of our views, and that of our EU partners….Most recently, we raised our concerns with the Singapore Government, regarding access for accredited non-governmental organizations to the International Monetary Fund/World Bank Annual Meetings held in Singapore….Our high commission in Singapore raised the issues most recently in December 2006 with the Singapore Deputy Prime Minister, who is also Minister for Law”. (www.singaporedemocrat.org 7/7)
4. Ho Piao, Former prisoner of conscience
One of Singapore’s former long-term prisoners of conscience, Ho Piao (aka Ho Toon Chin) died recently of a stroke in London, UK, where he lived following his release in 1982. He had been active in the (now banned) National Seamen’s Union and had been imprisoned without charge or trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA) since 1963. He had disputed the government’s claim after his release that he no longer wished to be involved in trade union activities. Accounts of his ill-treatment in prison are included in AI’s 1979 report following a mission to Singapore and in Chee’s Soon Juan’s book, To Be Free: Stories from Asia’s Struggle against Oppression. The account tells of long periods of solitary confinement, and of four days of torture in an underground cubicle, at one point tied to a wooden chair:
“One of the interrogators then…drove his fist into his stomach. With his hands tied, his torturers continued punching his stomach. As he gasped for air, another officer laid one more punch only this time he didn’t pull back, but let his fist bear into Ho’s aching gut, cutting off his breathing. When the prisoner came close to passing out, the officer pulled back, only to have others come in to smash their knuckles into his rib cage. Another delivered a karate chop to his chest while a third hurled himself at Ho and threw the prisoner to the floor. He curled up as his torso and chest heaved in pain. While on the icy floor, his interrogators poured cold water on him, causing his body to go into a painful contraction. Before he could recover from the shock, the thugs bore down on him yet again, kicking and punching his head.’This is how we treat animals,’ one of them snarled.” (German Press Agency 11/2, www.singaporedemocrat.org 11/2)
5. Martyn See
His new film on DVD, Speakers Cornered, is now available. It shows a small group of local activists in a face-off with police when they attempt to stage a pro-democracy march at Speakers’ Corner. Length 28 minutes. The second Toronto-Singapore film festival will take place at 1.p.mon 17 March at Innis Town Hall, University of Toronto, showing Speakers Cornered and Zahari’s 17 years (also a Martyn See film). (http://www.tsff.org/joomla/index.php)
In an blog interview article he names Robert Ho as Singapore’s leading cyber dissident and records the treatment meted out to Ho as a result of his criticism of Lee Kuan Yew: he was arrested over three times and on repeated occasions remanded in a mental institution. In See’s interview, Ho reiterates his strong criticisms and predicts a loss of PAP power after the death of Lee Kuan Yew. Ho is quoted as saying that Lee Kuan Yew is “a relic, a kind of fossil from the past” who has “failed, failed, failed” regarding the establishment of institutions that guarantee free and fair elections, an independent judiciary, a critical press, a Parliament of independent MPs, an opposition free to challenge the government’s ideas and policies etc. Ho points to the importance of the Internet, which “is spawning a freedom to think, associate and opine”. (www.singaporerebel.blogspot.com 6/1)
6. J B Jeyaretnam
Often descrribed as Singapore’s veteran opposition politician, J B Jeyaretnam applied unsuccessfully in November – for the fifth in five years – to have his bankruptcy order annulled. Following a series of government moves against him, he had been declared bankrupt in 2001 (and lost his parliamentary seat as a result) following his failure to pay his creditors. In January, he reported that the creditors had agreed to accept 45% of what was owed, but were questioning the amount in dollar figures. ([email protected] 28/11) In December, he applied for a hearing in Singapore’s highest court, the Court of Appeal. (ST 14/12) In January, he challenged Attorney-General Chao Hick Tin to an open debate, following Chao’s claim in a speech at the opening of the Legal Year 2007 that Singapore’s legal system ensured “equal access to justice for all…[and]commitment to the rule of law”. (http://jbjeya.org/jbj_press_statement_JBJ_AG_Jan2007.pdf 31/1)
7. Jehovah’s Witnesses
By the end of the year, twenty were held in military barracks for conscientious objection to military service. There is no alternative service in Singapore.
8. Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER)
FEER failed in its second attempt, January 3, to have a defamation suit against it thrown out. Singapore’s High Court decided that the suit, brought by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Minister Mentor Lee Hsien Loong, should proceed. The plaintiffs claimed that FEER’s July 2006 article, Singapore’s ‘Martyr’ Chee Soon Juan, was calculated to disparage them. FEER had challenged the right of a Singapore court to enforce damages outside the country because the magazine is Hong Kong-based and has no employees in Singapore. (ST 30/11, AP 23/2)
9. Falun Gong (FG) practitioner
Several were charged with holding protests without a permit. Although the Falun Gong movement is not outlawed, such public assemblies require permission.
Ng Chye Huay and Erh Boon Tiong were convicted 30 November of “harassment” for protesting outside the Chinese Embassy the Chinese government’s treatment of FG practitioners. On refusing to pay fines, they were jailed 15 days and 10 days respectively. Erh Boon Tiong’s wife visited the following day, expressing concern about his specially marked food tray and his state of health. (http://en.epochtimes.com 6/12)
Six women Falun Gong practitioners were found guilty February 13 of “assembling without a permit ” in October 2005 when they distributed flyers criticising the Chinese government’s treatment of Falun Gong practitioners. The six are: Pang Su Chin, You Xin, Wang Yuyi, Ang Soh Yan, Ng Chye Huay, and Cheng Lujin. They were not represented, Wang Yuyi saying that they could not find a lawyer willing to defend them. They were sentenced to a fine of S$1,000 each or a week in prison. The six argued that they were two separate groups of less than five people with different messages and therefore had not violated the legal requirement for a permit for groups of five or more. The court ruled that their messages had significant overlap, making them guilty under the law. All six protested the verdict and refused to pay the fines or admit any guilt. They were not imprisoned, however, as one of the defendants’ family members reportedly paid the fine for all six of them without their knowledge, and they were released.
Because the court in which they first appeared had only eight seats, there was no room for public observers. The six accused therefore turned their backs on the judge and were sentenced to two days in prison for contempt of court. The husband of Dianna Wang stated that he had been denied permission to visit his wife. The judge later transferred the trial to a larger courtroom. (www.singaporedemocrat.org 22/1, 24/1, DT 23/2)
10. Human Rights Day walk
On December 10, a group of human rights campaigners in Singapore staged a rare pro-democracy march “to celebrate what little rights we have”. They marched in groups of four (five requires a police permit). Chee Soon Juan’s wife and children took part in the march, which was led by their seven-year-old daughter, An Lyn, and passed by the prison where he was held. Several children took part, wearing Freedom Walk T-shirts carrying the messages “Free to Speak”. (accounts and photographs showing An Lyn and others www.singaporedemocrat.org 11/12, and video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DUbuJPYZJqY)
11. Harvard Law School and the International Commission of Jurists
12. Singapore Law Society
Its president, Philip Jeyaretnam, was quoted as saying that he did not see the Law Society as speaking out on human rights issues for a long time. (Today [email protected] 8/12) There is no information on a planned Law Society report on death penalty legislation, earlier expected by the end of 2006.
13. Sylvia Lim
Parliamentarian (Workers’ Party) Sylvia Lim questioned the government’s intention of considering an increase in the length of prison terms for unlawful assembly (from six months to two years) and rioting (from five to seven years). (ST 13/2)
14. Former president of the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) Dana Lam
Her book, Days of Being Wild: General Election 2006.- Walking the Line with the Opposition, was recently published. Quoted in a press interview with Loh Chee Kong of Today, she said: “There’s still some fear when it comes to choosing our political leaders….We’ve traded independence of thought in order to support the mainstream doctrine….There has certainly been more airing of views of late….But the Government still decides when there’s enough debate and when it’s time to move on”. ([email protected] 12/12)
15. Websites and Freedom of expression
Political satire is reported to play a larger role in Singapore’s websites. TalkingCock.com is said to have 40 million hits a month, and Mrbrown.com some 20,000 a day. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is quoted as saying “Countries can become unstable if political figures are not given basic respect and acceptance”. Australian academic Garry Rodan describes the government as not comfortable with political jokes because “humour challenges the notion of a foolproof meritocracy”. (Reuters 20/12) Open Democracy names PM Lee Hsien Loong as the “Worst Democrat of 2006” because the Lee doctrine designates freedom as too expensive. (www.opendemocracy.net 22/12) Reuters reported that PAP members were posting anonymous messages to Internet forums and blogs to rebut online criticisms. (3/2)
16. Empower Singaporeans Seminar
Another workshop in this series was announced for 28 January 2007, focussing on justice and democracy and the principles of non-violence. ([email protected] 15/1)
17. The International Bar Association (IBA)
Critics are questioning the IBA’s plans to hold its annual conference this year in Singapore, 14 – 19 October. Dr Chee Soon Juan’s letter to the IBA refers to the inclusion in the IBA’s mission of the promotion and protection of human rights, so conflicting with the government’s misuse of laws for political repression. He refers to Singapore’s “Nelson Mandela”, Chia Thye Poh; to defamation suits against critics leading to bankruptcy; to control of and suits against the media; to the high rate of executions etc. Dr Chee invited the IBA to a fact-finding mission to Singapore and called for a reconsideration of its decision to hold its annual meeting in the country. (www.singaporedemocrat.org 13/2) The Asia Sentinel (25/2) reported that its plan to hold the meeting in Singapore “runs into more flak as questions are asked about judicial independence”. The article quotes Swedish Liberal Party parliamentarian Birgitte Ohlsson as calling on the IBA not to “tarnish its good standing by holding its meeting in Singapore”. Basil Fernando of the Asian Human Rights Commission is quoted as saying “I can’t believe these people are going there”. From Germany, Rodny Scherzer, active on the promotion of human rights in Singapore, requested the IBA to review its decision to hold its annual meeting there, given the use of a “legal system to silence political opposition and to sign death warrants without any judicial discretion”.
The IBA has rebutted criticism, stating that an entire day will be dedicated to discussions on the Rule of Law. (www.ibanet.org)
In November, Maria Dass Pandi Rasan (m), aged 16, was sentenced to 24 strokes of the cane for robbing two taxi drivers. Straits Times Senior Writer Andy Ho questioned the use of mandatory minimum sentences, thus depriving judges of the freedom to give suitable sentences, i.e. taking into account the accused’s circumstances. He also referred to the lack of evidence showing that such sentences have a deterrent quality. (ST 24/11)
A former sales consultant was sentenced to 24 years and 24 strokes of the cane for the rapes of his young stepdaughter. (ST 14/1)
Australian Michael Karras was charged with trafficking 495 gr cannibis and possession of utensils for taking drugs. The amount is just short of the 500 gr for whcih there is a mandatory death penalty. If convicted, he faces a maximum 20 years in jail and 15 strokes of the cane. (Reuters 1/2)