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He may not be locked in combat in Iraq but he is arguably the most courageous soldier in Singapore today.
Recruit Muhammad Shafi’ie, the youngest among the Tak Boleh Tahan (TBT) activists, faces two trials in as many weeks: one for protesting against escalating cost of living in front of the Parliament House on 15 March this year and the other for contempt of court.
The 19-year old Singapore Polytechnic engineering graduate is currently a National Serviceman in the army at the Pulau Tekong Camp undergoing his Basic Military Training (BMT).
Mr Shafi’ie is now into his seventh of his 13-week BMT. He commutes between camp and the Subordinate Courts to join his fellow activists in the on-going trial.
“Everyday, I leave Pulau Tekong at seven in the morning by ferry to reach the jetty at Changi from where I head straight to the court to face the trial,” he said.
Regarding the TBT protest, Mr Shafi’ie said: “In the year 2007, the GST was increased to 7% from the previous 5%. Following that, the public transport fees, tertiary education fees, the ERP, to name a few, were also increased. At around the same period of time, the highly paid ministers had another round of pay rise.
“It does not make sense that the government is taxing the population more and claiming that it is actually helping the citizens, by giving back a fraction of what is taken from us in the form of ‘offset packages’. Where is our money actually going to?
“What I did on 15 March with 17 of my friends was to tell the government – Tak Boleh Tahan!”
What about his parents? They are, of course, worried about his involvement in political activism. In fact, his father was rather disappointed when Mr Shafi’ie pleaded not guilty to the current charges brought against him. Father probably wanted to get the matter over with so that his son could get out of activist work.
Asked why he was not pleading guilty and what he thought of the trial, the NSman said: “I don’t think what we did on 15 March can be called a crime. We hurt no one and neither did we create any disorder. What we did was to express our concerns as citizens on issues that affect us deeply.
“In fact the Constitution states that citizens have the right to free speech, assembly and expression. These are basic rights, not privileges. So I don’t understand why we are being charged for exercising our rights as citizens.”
Through his steadfastness, Mr Shafi’ie is slowly changing his parents’ minds. His mother attends the TBT trial in the subordinate court every day.
To the mild-mannered NSman, Mr Jufrie Mahmood, seasoned opposition figure and fellow Tak Boleh Tahaner, has this to say:
“I hope that in the future, this land will be a more conducive and compassionate place for all. But before that can happen, we must correct the wrongdoings that are happening now. It is a responsibility, to ourselves and to the people around us.
“It is truly heartening to have a young man like you coming to the fore. I am sure there are many more like you out there waiting to be enlisted. You have started the ball rolling. Keep it going and keep up your spirits!
“It’s a long, long haul indeed. But remember, a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. The first few steps have been taken. If older members like myself don’t make it to the end, we feel assured that youngsters like you will be there to continue on the journey. With true grit, we shall achieve, maybe sooner rather than later.
“As for myself, I will continue playing a supporting role and giving my two cents worth.
“We must persevere and have faith in what we are doing. To bring about change under the present political environment, we just cannot afford to follow the ineffective old formula year in and year out.
“Though we are much maligned now by the establishment and the local media, the day will come when we will be exonerated. The truth will inevitably emerge.”
Mr Shafi’ie will face another trial together with Mr John Tan and Mr Isrizal next week in the High Court over contempt of court charges from 4-6 Nov 08. The three were charged with wearing T-shirts bearing a picture of a kangaroo in a judge’s gown.