An Opposition leader jailed

March 17, 2006
Singapore Democrats

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Reuters
17 Mar 06

A SINGAPORE court sentenced an opposition leader to one day in jail and fined him S$6000 today for questioning the independence of the city-state’s judiciary.

Failure to pay the fine by the end of today would result in a one-week prison sentence, the High Court said.

Chee Soon Juan, secretary-general of the tiny Singapore Democratic Party, had criticised the judiciary during a February court hearing in which he was declared bankrupt after a defamation suit brought by two former prime ministers.

“I will not pay the fine,” Mr Chee said after being sentenced. Mr Chee and his lawyer had been expecting a much more severe sentence of two to three months.

He was immediately arrested and transferred to the Queenstown Remand Prison.

He had been found guilty of contempt of court yesterday.

Singapore’s attorney-general charged that he had “scandalised” the judiciary during his February 10 bankruptcy petition when he “imputed that he and other opposition politicians had suffered grave injustice because the Singapore judiciary was not independent and compromised the law in order to gain favour with the government”.

Mr Chee, whose party has no seat in Parliament, cannot run for election because, under Singapore law, bankrupts are banned from standing for Parliament. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is widely expected to call a general election in the next few months.

The US State Department, in a March 8 report on human rights practices in Singapore, criticised the city-state’s judiciary and questioned its independence in defamation cases targeting opposition leaders, citing Mr Chee’s case as an example.

Singapore’s leaders say the defamation suits are necessary to safeguard their reputations.

The High Court declared Mr Chee bankrupt last month for failing to make libel damages payments to former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong.

In January 2005, Mr Chee lost a three-year legal fight against defamation suits brought by Lee and Goh, and was ordered to pay them $S500,000 for questioning the government’s use of public funds.