Canadian professors write CSJ protest letter

November 20, 2006
Singapore Democrats

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October 20, 2006

The Honourable Peter Gordon MacKay
Minister of Foreign Affairs
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A6

Dear Minister MacKay,

Re: Dr. Chee Soon Juan

We are writing on behalf of more than 55,000 academic staff at over 100 universities and colleges across Canada to express our concern about the continued persecution of Singapore scholar and democratic opposition leader Dr. Chee Soon Juan.

Singapore’s government claims to be encouraging a more participatory, inclusive society, but in practice continues to use an array of laws to restrict freedom of expression. The result is a pervasive climate of fear in the country, and Dr. Chee is one of the few people in Singapore still willing to press for fundamental rights.

Dr. Chee is an academic and activist who has tirelessly promoted freedom of expression, transparency and democracy within Singapore and throughout the Asia Pacific region.

He is recognized internationally as a human rights defender and has received the Defender of Democracy Award by the respected organization Parliamentarians for Global Action. He is the author of several books, journal articles, editorials and essays, and has traveled around the world to speak out for democracy.

While in Canada in 2003, Dr. Chee met with government and several academics to discuss his struggle. Dr. Chee has been held in contempt for attempting to raise the same concerns about the independence of the Singapore judiciary that have been repeatedly raised by international observers including Amnesty International, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, the International Commission of Jurists, Human Rights First (formerly Lawyers Committee for Human Rights) and the United States Department of State. Government officials have publicly branded Dr. Chee a “liar”, “cheat” and “fraud” in apparent attempts to discredit and silence him.

He has been imprisoned several times, and repeatedly prosecuted, all for non-violently exercising his fundamental human right of free expression. An accomplished neuro-psychologist, Dr. Chee has lost his university post, and his academic career has been destroyed.

He was bankrupted earlier this year, unable to pay 500,000 Singapore dollars (500,000 Canadian dollars) in damages to Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew for allegedly defaming them during the 2001 election campaign. His bankruptcy means he is now barred from contesting elections and holding a parliamentary seat.

We were encouraged to learn that Canada demonstrated its concern by sending a representative of the Canadian High Commission in Singapore to attend Dr. Chee’s trial in March this year.

The Singapore government, however, continues to try to silence Dr. Chee. Earlier this month, he was charged with trying to leave the country without asking permission, and if convicted, could be fined thousands of dollars and jailed for up to two years.

We believe that in the face of continued persecution of Dr. Chee by the Singapore government, Canada and the international community need to do more.

We urge you to take further steps and, where possible, work with other governments to impress upon the government of Singapore that its public statements about working towards a more inclusive participatory society must hold true.

It is vital that the Singapore government desist its abuse of civil or criminal proceedings against Dr. Chee and other dissenting voices in Singapore, and lift its restrictions on peaceful exercise of free expression and other fundamental rights in Singapore.

Sincerely,

Greg Allain James L. Turk
President Executive Director
Canadian Association of University Teachers

cc. His Excellency Vanu Gopala Menon, Permanent Representative of Singapore to
the United Nations and High Commissioner to Canada