Buddies-in-autocracy: Singapore helps junta in victimising activists

August 23, 2008
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

The hypocrisy of Singapore’s authoritarian government has been exposed further by a group of Burmese nationals here who are finding themselves victimized for denouncing the murderous junta in their country.

At a news conference in Singapore yesterday, the spokesman for Overseas Burmese Patriots (OBP) revealed the ordeal s of six Burmese nationals who have had their visas or employment permits rejected or held in abeyance by Singapore authorities because they took part in peaceful protests.

Mr Myo Myint Maung said since last month three of the affected have been forced to leave Singapore to third countries, while the other three are awaiting their fate. All of them were part of a protest along Orchard Road in November last year during the ASEAN Summit of which Singapore was the chair.

Mr Myo, a third-year student at the Singapore Management University said: “Burmese patriots in Singapore work as one united group to raise awareness about human rights violations by the Burmese junta, advocate for free and democratic Burma, and stand in solidarity with the freedom and democracy movements inside Burma as well as around the world.”

In addition, the Burmese nationals in Singapore have also organized humanitarian assistance to help the recent Cyclone Nargis victims in their country.

Mr Myo said: “The political objectives of the Burmese activists have always been to advocate political change in Burma and their guiding principle is to use peaceful as well as lawful means in Singapore while expressing themselves.

“Indeed, none of the anti-junta political activities of the Burmese activists has ever been declared unlawful or in conflict with the local sensitivities of the Singapore government,” Mr Myo stressed.

At the news conference was also Ms Ngwe Zin Soe, a Permanent Resident and Temasek Polytechnic graduate working as assistant engineer since 2003. Her ordeal began when she went to extend her re-entry permit at the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) on 21 July 2008. It was supposed to be a routine exercise but she was told that her permit could not be extended immediately and she would be contacted at a later time. She is still waiting.

The third person, Thuyein Win, an “S” pass holder who has been here for slightly over a year, was asked to appear for an interview in connection with his application for Permanent Residency (PR). Instead of asking him about his application, two officers of the ICA questioned Thuyein at length on the makeup of the OBP of which he is a committee member. He was grilled by an officer who identified himself only as “Thomas” about the leadership, including who is heading the OBP.

“I found the interview totally irrelevant to my application for PR,” Thuyein told the news conference.

The assistant engineer said that he had signed an anti-junta petition in last March protesting against its constitutional referendum. The fate of his application for PR is in limbo.

The three who have been forced to leave Singapore are Maung Soe Thiha, a recent graduate from the NUS who is now in Cambodia; Myo Tun, a construction worker, currently in Thailand; and Hlaing Moe, a technical supervisor, forced to go over to Malaysia.

The spokesperson Mr Myo expressed fear that the ordeal for the Burmese, started last month, could continue as and when the visas and employment permits come up for renewal. He said close to 50 Burmese nationals took part in the Orchard Road peaceful protest to coincide with the ASEAN Summit. A number of them, after being questioned by the Singapore police had received letters of warning “not to repeat the offence”.

“In other Asean countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, Burmese nationals had staged peaceful protests and demonstrations against the Burmese junta since the Saffron Revolution of Sept 2007,” Mr Myo noted. “In none of these countries the Burmese involved have been subject to harassment or intimidation by the respective authorities.”

When asked if they regretted their actions, Mr Myo said, “If we ever regretted what we did, we would be sitting quietly at home repenting rather than going public with our difficulties.”

He said all that the Burmese community in Singapore, numbering 100,000, wants to know the rationale for the harsh actions by the Singapore government against the activists for expressing their “frustration and discontent of the Burmese people in Singapore at the outrageous atrocities committed by the Burmese military junta”.

What is being done to the Burmese nationals here is diametrically opposite to what the Singapore Government tells the world that ASEAN needs to help end the atrocities of the junta in Burma. The expose by the OBP is embarrassing. The double-faced posture needs to stop.